My amazing mum, Mildred, passed away on Thursday evening.
I am so sad, and, in the midst of all the necessary bureaucratic acts, have been reflecting on my memories of her. She was my inspiration, an ex-State-Registered Nurse,then a Nursing Sister, bright, and even in her nineties, had a memory that put mine to shame.
She wrote wonderful letters and kept journals, all positive, all uplifting, which will be solace (if source of renewed sadness) to me and her beloved grandchildren.
In the 1990s I wrote a sequence of poems about two Japanese women, a mother and daughter, both married to sumo wrestlers. The poems, as letters to and from those two women, comprise my pamphlet, ‘Parting the Ghosts of Salt’, which I dedicated to my mum.
The poems, of course, were not only about the Japanese women, Tamiko and Kasane, but, in a not-so-thinly-veiled way, were about me, my mum and my own daughter, who, at the time of writing was 3 or 4. And yes, they were dedicated to my mum, and my daughter, but they are also for all mothers and daughters.
A lot of the epigraphs, like the one which precedes this poem, are from Japanese women poets.
The photograph is of the spring flowers and bulbs which were in her room in the care-home. The hyacinth bulbs continue to sprout new green shoots and the daffodils are slowly awakening.
And so, Mildred, here, now, I re-dedicate this poem for you.
Drying Her Prayers
As the rains of spring
Fall,day after day, so I
Fare on through time
While by the fence the grasses grow
And green spreads everywhere.
Izumi Shikibu (late 10th C)
Mother, you are hanging out prayers on the willow
but the ink hasn’t dried;
little flies, scenting sweet gum embellish
your latest calligraphy.
I breathe on my hands, it is March,
my fingers are white as bamboo.
On the bridge, I hear the sisterly
slop of our sandals, still wait
for the god, hiding behind the gate,
to give chase, tap me on the shoulder,
offer a pale green scroll
with your name written there, words,
golden, scattered like pollen.