My mother's body

Original Text: 
© The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme by Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999): 19-25. PS 3566 .I4A89 1999 Robarts Library
2the pit, the cave where the sun lies down
3and threatens never to rise,
4when despair descends softly as the snow
5covering all paths and choking roads:
6then hawkfaced pain seized you
7threw you so you fell with a sharp
8cry, a knife tearing a bolt of silk.
9My father heard the crash but paid
10no mind, napping after lunch
11yet fifteen hundred miles north
12I heard and dropped a dish.
13Your pain sunk talons in my skull
14and crouched there cawing, heavy
15as a great vessel filled with water,
16oil or blood, till suddenly next day
17the weight lifted and I knew your mind
19candles that burn so fast, weeping
21Those candles were laid out,
22friends invited, ingredients bought
24that holiday for liberation
25and the winter solstice
26when tops turn like little planets.
27Shall you have all or nothing
28take half or pass by untouched?
30as the room stopped spinning.
31The angel folded you up like laundry
32your body thin as an empty dress.
33Your clothes were curtains
34hanging on the window of what had
35been your flesh and now was glass.
36Outside in Florida shopping plazas
37loudspeakers blared Christmas carols
38and palm trees were decked with blinking
39lights. Except by the tourist
40hotels, the beaches were empty.
41Pelicans with pregnant pouches
42flapped overhead like pterodactyls.
43In my mind I felt you die.
44First the pain lifted and then
45you flickered and went out.
46I walk through the rooms of memory.
47Sometimes everything is shrouded in dropcloths,
48every chair ghostly and muted.
49Other times memory lights up from within
50bustling scenes acted just the other side
52my fingers tearing at the flimsy curtain
53of time which is and isn't and will be
54the stuff of which we're made and unmade.
55In sleep the other night I met you, seventeen
56your first nasty marriage just annulled,
57thin from your abortion, clutching a book
58against your cheek and trying to look
59older, trying to look middle class,
61dressing for parties in cast off
62stage costumes of your sisters. Your eyes
63were hazy with dreams. You did not
64notice me waving as you wandered
65past and I saw your slip was showing.
66You stood still while I fixed your clothes,
67as if I were your mother. Remember me
68combing your springy black hair, ringlets
69that seemed metallic, glittering;
70remember me dressing you, my seventy year
71old mother who was my last dollbaby,
72giving you too late what your youth had wanted.
73What is this mask of skin we wear,
74what is this dress of flesh,
75this coat of few colors and little hair?
76This voluptuous seething heap of desires
77and fears, squeaking mice turned up
78in a steaming haystack with their babies?
79This coat has been handed down, an heirloom
80this coat of black hair and ample flesh,
81this coat of pale slightly ruddy skin.
82This set of hips and thighs, these buttocks
83they provided cushioning for my grandmother
84Hannah, for my mother Bert and for me
85and we all sat on them in turn, those major
86muscles on which we walk and walk and walk
87over the earth in search of peace and plenty.
88My mother is my mirror and I am hers.
89What do we see? Our face grown young again,
90our breasts grown firm, legs lean and elegant.
91Our arms quivering with fat, eyes
92set in the bark of wrinkles, hands puffy,
93our belly seamed with childbearing,
94Give me your dress that I might try it on.
95Oh it will not fit you mother, you are too fat.
96I will not fit you mother.
97I will not be the bride you can dress,
98the obedient dutiful daughter you would chew,
99a dog's leather bone to sharpen your teeth.
100You strike me sometimes just to hear the sound.
101Loneliness turns your fingers into hooks
102barbed and drawing blood with their caress.
103My twin, my sister, my lost love,
104I carry you in me like an embryo
105as once you carried me.
106What is it we turn from, what is it we fear?
107Did I truly think you could put me back inside?
108Did I think I would fall into you as into a molten
109furnace and be recast, that I would become you?
110What did you fear in me, the child who wore
111your hair, the woman who let that black hair
112grow long as a banner of darkness, when you
113a proper flapper wore yours cropped?
114You pushed and you pulled on my rubbery
115flesh, you kneaded me like a ball of dough.
116Rise, rise, and then you pounded me flat.
117Secretly the bones formed in the bread.
118I became willful, private as a cat.
119You never knew what alleys I had wandered.
120You called me bad and I posed like a gutter
121queen in a dress sewn of knives.
122All I feared was being stuck in a box
123with a lid. A good woman appeared to me
124indistinguishable from a dead one
125except that she worked all the time.
126Your payday never came. Your dreams ran
127with bright colors like Mexican cottons
128that bled onto the drab sheets of the day
129and would not bleach with scrubbing.
130My dear, what you said was one thing
131but what you sang was another, sweetly
132subversive and dark as blackberries
133and I became the daughter of your dream.
134This body is your body, ashes now
135and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
136my throat, my thighs. You run in me
137a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,
138you sing in my mind like wine. What you
139did not dare in your life you dare in mine.
Copyright 2000 The Art of Blessing the Day Alfred A. Knopf


18] Chanukah: the Jewish festival of lights, lasts for eight days between the end of November and the end of December and celebrates the triumph of the Maccabees and the "rededication" (chanukah) of the Jerusalem Temple, when a single oil lamp burned for eight days. Back to Line
20] chanukiya: "a candle holder specifically for Chanukah with four candles on each side and a central candle, nine in all. It is not to be confused with a menorah, which has seven candles." (Marge Piercy, e-mail to the Editor, Dec. 17, 2000). (The spelling chanukiyot in My Mother's Body (1985) was a misprint.) Back to Line
23] latkes: potato pancakes. Back to Line
29] dreydl: a four-sided top that has a Hebrew letter on each side -- shin, hey, gimel, and nun (meaning "a great miracle took place here"). When a player spins the dreydl, the letter that comes up dictates her luck: "nun" gets the player nothing and the turn passes to the next player. The letter "gimel" brings luck, because the player takes the whole pot. Back to Line
51] scrim: see-through drop-curtain on a theatre stage. Back to Line
60] Wanamaker's: John Wanamaker's big department store company, based in Philadelphia. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Sojourner (Feb. 1984): 18; Marge Piercy, My Mother's Body: Poems by Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 26-32. PS 3566 I4M9 1985 Robarts Library
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.
Special Copyright: 

<b>This poem cannot be published anywhere without the written consent of Marge Piercy, Leapfrog Press or Knopf permissions department.</b>