Who was it said Poems are never finished, they’re just abandoned?
I begin writing a poem after I assume some understanding about or appreciation over what I’ve just seen, experienced or remembered. Sometimes the poem comes out in one chunk and I let it rest for a while, then go back and tidy it up: Remove, add, clarify.
Sometimes there’s a poem that stems from a experience and I don’t know how to express it. Take this Psalm for Mother Sims, for example. I love the memory of it, but I’ve never been confident it works on page or as a poem.
One of the few visitors I ever saw while my mom was in the hospital was Mother Sims– an evangelist and preacher who came by the house a lot to visit and get her hair pressed and curled by my beautician mother. I always admired and liked Mother Sims– she had a sweet disposition, was accessible and real.
A week before my mom died, I was in the hospital and Mother Sims walked through the door. I watched her pray for my mom and she and I talked then as my mom couldn’t. However much I respected her before, after that afternoon my love for her grew exponentially. I didn’t see her again until years after the funeral. I reconnected with her after returning to one of the churches I used to visit as a kid.
I was surprised to see her still alive. She told me where she lived and I promised to visit, which I did.
One of my last visits inspired this poem.
If anything I was at a loss as to how to best tell the tale, how to format the piece. Then it occured to me, maybe I can model the poems’ structure on how verses are written in the Bible. I simultaneously like how it came out ( I like the numbered lines as a kind of list) and was underwhelmed by the result. I guess I want a poem to shake me or aggressively punch me in the gut. This is just Pleasant. Neither stunning nor awful.
Psalm of Mother Sims & A Blues From The Book Of Bob
1. I stand at the foot of the evangelists bed, glancing shyly over the oceanic patience of her sleeping face.
2. Not since my mother & grandfather died have I been in a place this void of expectation
3. I look around. What else is there to do here but sleep?
4. Briefly, I turn away from staring at Sister Sims face,
5. And study the arctic blue ember of a television angled on a dresser in a room across the hall.
6. The blue box is a pet, and is the rooms only color and conversation
7. Some people won’t visit places like this
8. With its smell of antiseptic death reaching far out into the surrounding orbit of barely used sidewalks.
9. Minutes cascade down my desire to leave;
10. I turn towards the nurturing light of the exit wanting to walk out, when she stirs
11. She lifts a thin hand to her nose and scratches. Her moist eyes crack open, the diamond of consciousness glittering beneath long black lashes.
12. She compels me sit along the white-capping sheets on the shoreline of her bed
13. We hold hands.
14. I remember years ago how she drew a cross in olive oil on my mother’s forehead & called in favors from Jesus who at that time would not do any.
15. 95 now, she says—
16. She anoints herself my godmother, wriggling her spine straighter and sitting up in bed
17. She recites my lineage from memory, en epic poem of names as if they were combination to something locked.
18. She is regal and alive and more lucid than some men a quarter her age
19. In one of her stories, she says something that, in this place, makes me laugh
20. The woman in the next bed is stirred by my outburst–snatches up the dividing curtain as if skirt checking virgins in Catholic school dorms
21. She stares at me and does not Stop.
22. It is a brutal gaze I cannot return
23. The woman drops the panel, rolls onto her back, then begins moaning to the ceiling a bluesy dirge for someone named Bob…
24. Bob!!! Bob!!! His name a death rattle in her throat.
25. Bob!!! Standing out there in the hallway right now— drinking and cussing and won’t come in.
26. O Bob. What’s wrong? Where are you?
27. Its safe to come home, now. All is forgiven…
28. Your warm dinner is here with us! Take your place at the table, Bob. I’ve been cooking all night and ironing kerchiefs for the place settings since dawn.
29. Sweat is my cooking grease, Bob! This love has been deep fried golden brown just for you
30. Bob, she says. Come on in from the hallway. Bob? Bob!!
31.Oh, shut up. Shut her up! Mother Sims Says
32. She closes her eyes again & sneers in disgust at even the curtain separating them
33. Mother Sims reaches over, grips my arm tight. Tighter!
34. As if to keep me from falling in to whatever pit that womans’ mind now frantically lathers