Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Daughter

For F

How fraught this word with its 'gh' 
appearing to snag like a 'g' should
then at the last minute letting the air
through like the 
to the gate left open when she 
should be inside on her bed listening
to Axel Rose and doing her science
homework or
like a window left open for cigarette smoke –  
see! there's a 'g' right there doing what
a 'g' ought to – jagged little thing –
catching at the throat
like smoke does when you're not used to it,
in no time at all
our smooth babies chuckling
like eggs on the boil 
are snagging on all sorts of things
that ‘g’ getting in the way again when they
ought to 
surely, be able to find their way through
and around obstacles like water does,
but no, there they are: words
like prickles, like bruises and cuts,
more than we could never imagine, or,
worse, a ravaged interior –
that 'g' again of a different sort
jagged like a knife this time, like an 
fighting its way into the soil, like a breath taken
when breath is hard to take,
no, stand aside, we cannot go there
not on our own, not like this for we mothers
will always be new mothers on hard sheets 
babies at our breasts squeaky as silk
our bodies pouring forth
in a way that speaks of libation and sacrifice
which brings up that word at last:
But it’s no good. I can't
do anything with it, can’t foretell how
it will be for us or for them, but particularly for her.
All we can wish for is that this daughter
is safe in her bed, the one
with tie-dyed pillows and cinnamony sheets
and posters of Marilyn – or better
the one with the pink and orange satin
heart pillow and Little Mermaid book
and the door open a crack, just a crack,
so we can stand there and simply
adore her.                                    

By Mary McCallum 

And do check out the fabulous Tuesday Poem at the hub - by a UK poet this week - selected by Janis Freegard. And a raft of fab poems can be found in the TP sidebar too. 


Kathleen Jones said...

A lovely poem, Mary. I empathised with so much of it, on both sides!

Ben Hur said...

Fantastic poem, Mary. I love that image: "our smooth babies chuckling like eggs on the boil".

I can understand how you feel and I don't even have daughters.

Very clever how you use the motif of the "gh" jagging on things.

TK Roxborogh said...

I have alerted the 1000 strong English teachers community of your blog post with a recommendation they share it with their senior students.

Like Ben, my favourite image is the chuckling like eggs on the boil.

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you Kathleen, Andrew (Ben Hur) and Tania - parents all. Lovely as always to get a response and thrilled you've alerted English teachers to the poem. I'd love to know what students make of it.

This background might help....

This poem poured out in response to the news that a friend's adult daughter had serious cancer. Words are so important aren't they? When another friend's mother died suddenly in a car crash and she said the word 'Mum', the word hung there, so packed with meaning for both of us and just then a lonely word without a person to connect to. So, 'daughter'. That word, for the friend with the sick daughter was, suddenly, the most precious word in the world. So that was the trigger subject, and then - as happens when you write - I conflated it with my own daughter, my own motherhood. The shock and joy of being told 'you have a daughter' (I already had two sons and expected a third) - and the wonderful and frightening notion from the start that 'daughter' was, like the word itself, more complicated than 'son'.

So that's what I did - approached the word: the odd way it has the 'gh' that doesn't sound - the sounds in there of 'door' and 'ought to' that are spelt oddly with the 'au' - and the look of 'auger' and 'augur' and the meanings of those words, and then finally a return to the sound of the 'door' at the start and the place we all start from with a daughter (and come back to despite everything), straight out adoration.