Monday, March 9, 2015

An ode to the single most relevant type of human being on the planet - the mother

This is a poem by Seamus Heaney called "While all the others were away at Mass". My 17 year old daughter Emma voted for it recently in the Poem for Ireland initiative. It's a breathtakingly beautiful poem. Have a read of it. It's very appropriate as we get near to Mother's Day. When you have read it, please have a read of the reflection on it written by my daughter - it too is breath taking and full of courage. 

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Emma's thoughts on the poem 

I had to wrench tears from my eyes as I read Heaney's bereaved stanzas, ironed out in unrepressed wistful sadness. It is a very real fear, losing one's mother and it prevails even before we have grasped what death is, in the clutch of that desperate desire for intimacy that Heaney so artfully elicits. I recall grasping at the fogginess of youth for those crystallised memories, incidents, anecdotes, monumental moments to cradle for comfort if she lost that hospital bed-bound battle and left me with a two year old to convince of her existence, once upon a time.

For as much as we might quarrel with them, cast disgruntled glances, warning shots at them across a room (in the naval battle of making tea); a mother is something precious.

For me, Heaney’s poem captured that often unstated tenderness amid the tumult of growing; the moment of mutual affection that manifests in trading a tube of Pringles, munching over dialogue, being taught the inner workings of an avocado, debating the prudence of bananas in a smoothie.

This poem spoke to me because I carry that fear of losing my mother constantly - every blip on her health radar, every hospital stay, every infection……. There’s an intimate familiarity that accompanies the word cancer, and to all the furious tears I have streaked into hoodies.

I love baking with my mother, even though she’s an utter, unabashed dictator when it comes to the precise operation of an electric whisk, because I think that I will remember those burned cookies, that delicious chocolate fudge, the joy she’d take in smashing pistachios with a rolling pin forever.

Mothers are mythical creatures, with the wisdom of Athena, the beauty of Apollo, holding the endless ire of Zeus in reserve for matters as varied as:

·         other people who dare to use the road in a less than pristine fashion,

·         lightbulbs,

·         the grubby inside of the oven,

·         carol singers,

·         bananas,

·         invading hoards of eight-legged hell hounds (also known as spiders),

·         and, most vehemently, anyone who attempts to harm the insolent beings she expended hours ushering from her womb.

For me, “While the others were away at Mass” is a worthy champion of Irish poetry, and an ode to the single most relevant type of human being on the planet – the mother!
End of Emma's thoughts
Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful Mum's out there, especially those who are battling serious illness. I hope that if you have a daughter, that you are as lucky as I am .........
Brenda xxxx










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