Saturday, September 26, 2009

Red Jacket: A Poem For My Mother

Kathryn Edmund Savides: September 23, 1915 - January 26, 2004
(Happy Birthday, Mom)


She was borne away by an engine ornate, fiery and black
on a rescue mission: to oversee an uncle's burial.
Huge Uncle Bill had been the King Kong
in our family fairy tale, bolting rows of sweet corn
and inhaling ingots of butter at Reunions,
beer bubbling out of his ears, Snickers bars up his nose,
his roaring beefy tongue popping with hotdogs
and Scottish curses, a new wife
sitting on his hand every few years.
Suddenly he'd exploded, his football-sized pigskin heart
split at every seam,

and our mother's calmness was frantically summoned
by the hysterical fourth wife.
Mom rode to the rescue on a dragon-black train,
bolt upright and pushing it all the way. Once there
she ordered the special, jumbo casket,
she blessed the giant's exploded corpuscles
with a gentle veil of white flowers,
dignified his furry pagan paunch in a kingly suit of black.
She directed when cables would lower his bulk,
heavy as a crusader in full mail, to the inner earth
where seethed gobs of minerals, and his ancestors' lacy bones.
Old wives' and young wives' cupid's-bow kisses
colored his big ornery face
ravishing shades of rose.
At the funeral lunch, the peach-fed oils of Mother's baked ham
soothed mourners' torn nerve endings.
The precise rectangles of her bar cookies
made them feel they could go on.

At home we shivered in coldest eclipse,
for she was the queen
of our tribe of dwarves.
At five years old
I fought my baby instinct to stroke her red jacket
in the closet where it glowed.

Finally one midnight the dragon brought her back.
Finally we could breathe her warm air again.
But I'd heard that corpses were green,
and rotten-bellied with fear
still had to ask.
Yes, she said, Uncle Bill had been a little green,
but he was now shining in Heaven,
silvery with Grandma and Father Abraham.
She believed it, too.
When she looked up, all of her beloved dead
were sparkling in the constellations.

My hard little coconut head
processed her words. I looked up
suspiciously at those stars, privately had my doubts:
then looked into her gentle face and decided
then and lifelong,
never to tell her.


  1. Was your father Ted Savides, my high school teacher and mentor? Jeanne Wallendal Jessie

  2. Thanks, Margaret, for the fabulous poem. I'm an acqaintance of your mom from PDS; she told me about your blog. I glad I stopped by!

  3. Hi Jeanne,
    It's great to hear from you! Yes, Ted Savides was my father. His years teaching at PDS high school were very happy ones.

  4. Prairiegirl, thanks for your kind comment. I'm glad you stopped by too!

  5. Wow Margaret, the images in this poem are so vivid and strong. There's such an incredible forward movement. I have to read it a third time to really grasp what happened exactly -- I'm a slow reader. I'd forgotten that you are partly Greek. Oopla.

    PS: Time to look on my blog for your name in lights.

  6. Beautiful and touching Marge. I'm sure your mom forgives your private doubts.

  7. Wow! You are a fantastic writer. I'm misting up a little.