Thursday, September 23, 2010

RED JACKET: A Poem for my Mother

Kathryn Savides, September 23 1915 - January 26, 2004.
I also posted this poem last year on my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday, dear Mom!

She was borne away by an engine ornate, fiery and black
on a rescue mission: to oversee an uncle's burial.
Uncle Bill had been the ravenous 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, plums 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 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,
and we breathed warm air again.
I'd heard corpses were green, and rotton-bellied with fear
still had to ask.
Yes, she said; Uncle Bill had been a little green,
but 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 suspiciously
at those stars, privately had my doubts.
But then I looked into her gentle face and decided,
then and lifelong,
never to tell.


  1. Wow, Margaret, you are an amazingly gifted writer. This is incredible - every word and phrase. I especially like: "The precise rectangles of the bar cookies made them feel they could go on." What a lovely tribute, too. Your mom did good! You do well to keep her memory a blessing.

  2. I agree with Robyn, what a rich cascade of delicious recollection - such wonderful images, all seamlessly blended together. So much love in this. You are your mother's child.

  3. Robyn--thank you! It makes me happy if the poem gives some idea of my mother's character. She is my hero.

    Shrinky--you're so kind. And yes, there was a lot of love in writing this. It's interesting (also maybe a little scary!) to find out how clearly we recall events from early childhood. Maybe it's ALL there somewhere!

  4. Thank you for giving us this. I hope you offer it to us again and again. Jane

  5. Thank you, Jane. The poem was both fun and moving to write...