When her death left us all behind,
so many questions came to mind.
Why couldn’t I have asked them when
she could have answered, way back then?
What she told voluntarily,
about her life and family tree
was always very carefully chosen—
the details all rehearsed and frozen.
The same stories she told over again
about the things that once had been,
but so many things she didn’t say,
afraid, perhaps, she might display
sad facts of life she always hid—
the underside that she forbid.
We would laugh and joke and kid.
Unpleasantness we never did.
She was a good mother. Supportive, kind,
always helpful in a bind.
Generous and always there.
Full of loving, thoughtful care—
that same care that I tried to show her,
although, I fear, I did not know her.
That little girl who lost her dad
and favorite sister. Was she sad?
Mom never talked of it so we
simply let the subject be.
The stepfather she didn’t care for—
what were the details and the wherefore?
How did it feel to give her hand
to a stranger, then to move to land
so bare and rolling with grass like seas,
empty of people and of trees?
Was she lonely? Did she have friends?
How did they come to make amends
the time she left my father and
took my sister by the hand
and went on home, angry and bitter.
Did my father come to get her?
All these family stories bold
were hinted at but never told.
My mother’s foolish Southern pride
would not permit the underside
of life to show. She tucked it in—
to display unhappiness was sin.
To please her, we followed the rules.
Joking and kidding were the tools
we used to hide unpleasantness
and thereby circumvent the mess
of sadness and humiliation.
Easier to show elation.
We told our secrets to friends, but we
withheld them from our family.
What stories took they to the grave,
my parents, generous and brave?
All those things they thought to spare us
come about to greet and stare us
in the eye on occasions when
we reminisce about back then.
“I wonder what?” is perpetually
my thought about my family.
With parents gone, I don’t know how
we’ll ever know the answers now.
And because I barely knew my mother,
I am still looking for another.