As I was going through some old files looking for her photograph, I found a poem I'd written one week after I learned she was dying from metastatic breast cancer. It was written on November 8, 1975, long before I'd studied and learned the craft of poetry. I remember the trigger so clearly. One week post mastectomy, she was standing beneath a maple tree, ablaze with autumn color, in the front yard of our New Castle, Delaware house.
I close my eyes and see you--my mother--
Beneath the maple tree, alive and lovely.
The unspoken voices of Autumn--
My favorite season--whisper
To the leaves of gold and crimson.
Uncertain of tomorrow's winds
They cling to the fragile limbs of November.
The sun glistens through their vibrant colors
Like the grey threads in your raven black hair.
Tread softly death, be gentle
Like the floating leaves as they come to rest
Upon the moist brown earth.
Despite my plea, death did not tread softly for my mother. She lived sixteen months after her diagnosis and they were pain-filled difficult days of chemotherapy and radiation. Days in which she made a gallant effort to be brave as she said goodbye to everything and everyone she loved. She left behind her crippled husband and five children, my youngest brother had just turned sixteen.
When my first poem was published on the back of a church bulletin, my mother greeted me in the morning with, "I couldn't sleep all night for thinking about my famous daughter. I always knew you would make it." Her faith in me was as unwavering as her faith in God. She was my concept of family--my example--and so much a part of me I wasn't sure I could go on without her. But the human spirit is strong and I have gone on--though not exactly without her. She is very much alive each time I think of her.
Yesterday, I held my newly published collection of poems, A Question of Mortality, in my hands for the first time. And she was there, beside me, a smile on her face as big as Oregon. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. And thanks for your undying belief in me.