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You Were There - a poem for our mother



At your eightieth birthday party you sat under the umbrella with Bob,
your cigarettes and martini, your eyes laughing like blue bird wings,
shaded from the sun. Yesterday is smoke to the sky and all the world
rendered to the present is here in this garden, familiar faces
names forgotten along with the rest of your life.

When you look in the mirror you ask whose wrinkled face
stares back at you and I remember the day
you declared yourself not beautiful anymore. Is losing
memory a careless wish to lose the self
you no longer want?

Women’s scars, trophies of battles survived
are not glorified here, they are veiled in shame, but once
you taught me how to tie my shoes, make my bed
and love my children. That is why, as the party began,
I tried to mirror back the beauty you didn’t catch
in your reflection.

Words barely out I strained through tears to bring the air
from lung to tongue, gasping for the right sound.
Surrounding eyes were filled as well as though we understood
what hadn’t formed in the mouth, and you rose from your seat
to put your arms around me. A mother’s comfort burst through
nameless grief and the reason we were there made clear.
That is beauty.

Later you danced on the kitchen floor Sally washed
in the morning of the day we ran like ants to carry tables
and chairs through narrow doorways and carefully lay
the frozen salmon thawed in the bath, on its final platter
in a maze of salads and buns. Tables, ceilings,
punctuated with purple and blue balloons. You and Dot,
your feet fast as marbles jived to Glenn Miller, your face
with no memory of shyness beamed and yet,
the next day when I recalled to you these moments

you asked if you were there.

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Where does "Greatness" come from? The imagination? Facts? Confidence? A willing suspension of disbelief in a slogan that makes us happy? A capacity to judge well? An ability to observe and find solutions that benefit most if not all? Taking responsibility for the community? A masters degree from Oxford or Yale?

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Greatness is like a dove in the imagination, an angel, a temporary insight, a fleeting epiphany. Something aspired to in the privacy of our minds.

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