Thursday, April 2, 2009

Darlene L. Young: "Washing Mother"

Darlene and I go way back; that is, the first poem I had published, "Fruit," appeared in the same issue of Dialogue (39.3 [2006]) as her poem "Washing Mother." I've touched on two of Darlene's other poems---"Post Partum" and "How Long?"---at AMV (another connection Darlene and I have is that we both had poems published in Irreantum 9.2 [2007]/10.1 [2008], which I review in my AMV post).

But today, I'd like to direct you to "Washing Mother."

In this accessible and moving elegy, Darlene explores a moment when a child must return to care for a parent (in this case, obviously, a mother) who edges nearer and nearer death. The cleansing ritual she depicts comes because, as she admits, I "[c]an't resist your need / Or else I want to atone / For leaving so eagerly" (lines 2-4) before. It thus becomes a poignant reconciliation between mother and daughter, especially as the daughter realizes, moving her hands across her mother's "Sallow and gaunt" body (17), her "paper-thin skin" (30), that this woman who had been a fixture in her life for so long is slipping away.

In trying to decide which of Darlene's poems to link to and comment on today, I thought I'd post on this one because I remembered how it connected us (however tenuously) as poets and because it brought to mind my grandfather, who passed away last October and who I've written about previously in various posts. The intimacy of Darlene's experience struck a deep chord with me this morning as I remembered my experiences with watching Grandpa edge toward death. This movement, I think, is one thing poetry can do, perhaps better than any other textual form because it is so tied to the body's rhythms. I can hardly read a poem without feeling it in my bones. "Washing Mother" did that for me today.

Some of Darlene's other poems can be found here.