If the poem was gone the next morning, Mom knew I was back. - Peggy V. Beck
by Peggy V. Beck
When I turned 15 and got my driver's license, my mother Maeve began writing me poems about my leaving and coming home. I would return at night and find a poem on the back of a chair, on the stairs or slipped under my bedroom door. If the poem was gone the next morning, Mom knew I was back.
These poems reiterated our mutual love of music, nature, politics, humor and language, but they were grounded in the cycles of the year and the place we called "1610" in S.E. Minneapolis.
1610, which Mom described as "inwardly plain/outwardly plain" permeated every poem. Ordinary things. The little signs Mom had unscrewed from trains and ships in Europe and placed over the kitchen sink and next to toilets. The sound of "the train cars humping along the tracks." The trees and honeysuckle. The white-throated sparrow's song. The changing crickets' chirp in summer, and the moonlight coming in my bedroom window. Little things Mom loved and shared. "And notice also how the stars/Once darkened now emerge again ... and shift more gently to the south."
These "home" poems Mom dashed off in the evening were also a vehicle by which she demonstrated the nuances of language, rhythm and line in formal metric poetry. It makes me sad to think her teaching was probably lost on me. But that didn't stop her. Writing these poems was the way she survived in the 1960s and '70s. Evening was an oasis. Writing home poems turned the mundane into the sublime, if only for a moment.
Years later, coming home from far away, I realized that 1610 was the place where I could be all my selves, where my changes were respected and celebrated but that younger fledging self was never forgotten. To open the door was "To see most suddenly a place/Enchanted, child-wrung and clear."
"Ends and beginnings mend," Mom wrote. "Most sweet, as seasons come and go." For Mom the poems were a talisman so I would come back home again, an ephemeral flash of beauty, laughter, a testament of her love. "This is your place to boss and roam/Hold dear or cheap/It is where you're at home/Softly or loud. Shallow or deep."
For me now they are a touchstone for what makes me whole, what gives me joy, and what it means to love without conditions. This is what the poems were all about.
This was Mom's gift to me even when I didn't know it: Seek the treasures of the soul and the absurdities of life. The hearth is the heart. Words, like the changing seasons, shape our tenuous but tenacious love.
Peggy V. Beck (P.V. Beck, Ailm Travler) is the author of books, essays and poems. Most recently she edited her mother's home poems in The Mighty Branches of the Heart: Home Poems by Maeve Butler Beck, www.tamarackriverpress.com.
BookShelf: Peggy V. Beck recommends her favorite books of home and place by women authors: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Philippe's Hill by Lee Kingman
Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis
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