From Notes To Poetry: My Mom’s Writing

22

Imperative verbs.

That’s what I remember most about my mother’s writing – at least from my years growing up. Before and after school, her kitchen-table notes delivered instructions:

> Don’t forget your lunch

> Working late tonight – make dinner for James

> The dog got into the trash outside – please clean up the mess!

When I was in college and living in Ireland, my mother’s writing was more expansive, but still prosaic. Her letters brought news of family gatherings, Rhode Island weather, how business was going at her clothing store on Federal Hill… The notes were comforting to me, but I never sensed that my mom liked to write. Her handwriting appeared rushed. Between the lines, she seemed to be saying, Oh, if we could just sit and talk, that would be better.

And then, at age 71, my mom asked me to read something she was working on. “I guess it’s a poem,” she said. “A memory, really.”

William Zinsser calls memoir “a window into a life, very much like a photograph in its selective composition.” The Blanket is my mom’s word snapshot of her life circa 1965, when our family lived in a double-decker on River Avenue in Providence, downstairs from her dying mother.

My mom wasn’t great at spelling. She worried that she had never mastered verb tenses and punctuation and syntax. I told her that was the easy stuff – we’d figure it out, no problem. “Lots of people know how to write,” I said. “But not everyone has something to say. That’s what’s hard.”

Though clearly not for her.

*     *     *

The Blanket

I have been sleeping under my

mother’s deathbed blanket

for thirty-six years.

 

It is white with delicate pink flowers

that grow from bottom to top

along the fold that drops

over the edge of the bed.

 

It was my blanket, a gift from Nana.

Guests, calling to visit, led me to lay

its newness on my mother’s sickbed.

 

The newness would certainly warn

the transporter being sent to take

my mother away

that she wasn’t ready yet!

 

Without her, who was to discover

the shoe-box cradle made

by a pre-school wizard?

 

Whose eyes would watch from the

second-floor window as the four-year-old

football hero ran for the touchdown pass?

 

Where would I find the approval she

gave me when, in the midst of my own

chaos, I pressed my new baby

into her arms?

 

The blanket, now thinning, with flowers

faded and ribbon missing, still covers

me as I journey into sleep each night.

 

I think I will lie beneath it until

the day I die.

 

– Norma Pantalone Walsh

March 22, 1933 – May 5, 2013

 

2 Comments

How precious! I like your observation of her hurried notes as well as her poem. I guess the telltale element of handwritten pieces are going obsolete, with the use of the ubiquitous computer. Blessings!

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