Gail White


Why is my mother not like other women?
I have seen other mothers with their girls
walk on the narrow cliffs above the sea
or in the pleasant fields to gather flowers,
and I have felt between them the calm peace
that comes of understanding.
                                                 But my mother―
if I should bring her handfuls of bright flowers
fresher than gold, sometimes she kneels and takes
me in her arms and holds me close as if
there were some threat to tear me from her heart
and her eyes glow with tears, as if a flower
were something she might never see again...
and other times, let me do what I will,
she walks as if her mind and eyes were gone
into the sea, a thousand miles away,
and I were not her child but some strange creature
she never knew, as if I were not there...

Is it misfortune to be such a child
with such a mother? Is it happier
to be always calm and close and intimate,
than to be captured in her sudden storms
and sent away out of her vacancies?
But would I change ― am I not happier
being always somewhat lonely for her love?
Girls who have lovers say that their delight
is the uncertainty of keeping love;
still to be watchful that it never goes―
they fan it with their kisses and their eyes,
with letters and sweet words and honeyed looks,
that the bright flame die not in the heart’s lamp―
and so my mother is, and I with her―
seeking assurance, still somewhat afraid
rejection and not love will be the end―
yet always in the end being reconciled.

When she comes in now, and she finds me writing,
what will she say? And if I interest her,
how will I answer, or how much be hurt
to be ignored? These questions lovers ask.
And those who love a mother do so too.

Gail White is the author of The Accidental Cynic (a winner of the Anita Dorn Memorial Award for Poetry), and Easy Marks (a nominee for the Poet’s Prize). She lives in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.