Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MA, by ALTER BORDY

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

MA, by            
First Line: What can she be thinking of
Last Line: "I'll open it, ma."
Subject(s): Mothers

What can she be thinking of --
This gray-haired, dark-faced little woman
With those close-drawn cheeks and humbly lowered eyes,
As she bends over the wash-tub,
Scrubbing the wet underwear against the wash-board
All morning long!
What can she be thinking of --
In this queerly quiet kitchen,
Dark and small and clean-kept like herself,
As the blown rain whips against the window pane
And swishes into the yard
With a soft, continual splash --
I have an impelling desire to understand her;
To know her and get nearer to her --
This tired-faced woman who is my mother.
I wish I could get into her bowed head
As she bends over the wash-tub,
And look through her dimmed eyes
And see how things seem to her
After fifty-seven years of life --
Fifty-seven years of the great commonplaces of life:
Childhood, girlhood, wifehood, motherhood;
All but death --
And that, too.
Fifty-seven years of sorrowing, rejoicing, despairing, hoping
Over the world's timeless joys and griefs;
Questioning not the scheme
That mostly gave her things to sorrow over,
And despair over
All these years.
After bringing ten children into the world,
In the ordinary, miraculous way;
Nursing them with unwearied breasts,
Working for them with unwearied hands,
Loving them with unwearied patience,
Battling for them
With poverty, death and disease
For thirty years; --
Seeing some of them struggle into manhood;
Seeing some of them struggle into womanhood,
Painfully, joylessly;
And following some of them to their little graves,
In their birthplace across the sea,
Under the Russian birch trees.
And one --
She who was your first born, mother!
She who gave you most joy and most pain --
Seeing her grow up in your barren house,
Like a tall tree from a cleft rock,
Strong and healthy and haughty with beauty,
Hating her humble birth,
Panting for color and joy; --
Seeing her flare out her tumultuous years
In a brief feverish fire;
Until you followed her, too,
Burying half of your heart
Under a tombstone in Brooklyn.
And all the while,
These thirty-seven years,
Mated with the wreck of a strong man,
The wreck of a great soul,
Broken and humbled by a strange disease,
That lurked in him like an assassin --
Patiently loving, living, bearing with him;
Suffering his pain as your own;
Sharing his weakness and worshipping his strength;
Respecting the tragedy you could not understand.

Woman, woman,
Sublime, simple mother of mine,
Scrubbing away at the wash-board
With gnarled, mechanical fingers --
What do you make of all this!
How do you reconcile
All the purposelessness and fruitlessness and contrariness of things
In that crude mind of yours --
Seeing the faith that cloaked you from the truth,
That explained and arranged and combined,
Systematizing the Universe into a well-ordered household
With a Master who saw all and knew all,
Punishing and rewarding in inexplicable ways --
Seeing your old faith cast off and trampled under foot,
Ignored and derided by your own children
As a foolish, baseless fable,
Mother, poor mother of mine,
What can you make of all this,
Scrubbing away at your wash-board,
This rainy morning?
What are you thinking about?
I wish I could know!
Are you thinking of her that you lost,
In the full-blown bloom of your hope --
Plucked from your arms,
As you held her down to the bed
Helping the doctor that day?
Do you see her come in through the door,
Quick and abrupt as of old:
Her heavy, masculine step;
Her straight and broad-bosomed figure;
The animal health of her cheeks.
Are you remembering
Some word that she carelessly dropped;
A certain twist of her neck --
And your dark face darkens;
And your gray head pensively droops;
And your eyes that have wept themselves red,
Glisten with oncoming tears.

Or are you thinking of your husband,
Reeling his way through the years,
Stupefied by his fate --
Falling and rising and falling,
Under the bludgeon of life!
And you remember a Sabbath afternoon
In Kartushkiya-Beroza,
When the town turned out for a stroll; --
How you walked by his side on the highway,
Proud to be envied of all.
Or are you thinking of me --
Your strange, queer, puzzle of a son;
The poet-changeling of your womb --
Whom you would love but do not know how;
Whom you would hope for but do not know what.
And your heart is sad with apprehension
Knowing not why.

Or are you thinking of the little ones
And your little daily cares:
Those socks that you washed just now --
They are far too torn to be mended;
Or those worn-out shreds of underwear --
And winter coming . . .

Here they are back from school
With a loud ring at the door --
"I'll open it, Ma."

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