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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

John Wieners: My Mother


Washington Street under the El, looking toward Egleston Square: photo by Ernst Halberstadt, February 1973

talking to strange men on the subway,

doesn't see me when she gets on, Washington Street
but I hide in a booth at the side

.....and watch her worried, strained face --
..the few years she has got left.
.....Until at South Station

....I lean over and say:
..I've been watching you since you got on.
.......She says in an artificial
..........voice: Oh, for Heaven's sake! if heaven cared.

But I love her in the underground
......and her gray coat and hair
sitting there, one man over from me
......talking together between the wire grates of a cage.

John Wieners (1934-2002): My Mother, from The Ages of Youth in Ace of Pentacles (1964)

Elevated railroad structure and blighted area below Washington Street, looking south from the corner of Bartlett, Boston, Massachusetts
: photo by Ernst Halberstadt (1910-1987) for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, February 1973 (National Archives and Records Administration)


Wooden Boy said...

So he haunts his mother, tender without being seen and sizing her up too. As soon as he makes his presence felt she slips into her part, reading the lines like some half hearted actor.

Still, there's such love "...between the wire grates".



"But I love her in the underground."


light coming into sky above black plane
of ridge, moon by planet by pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

here is that in mind, think
of examples at random

that cloud, cloud that does
not show itself, some

silver line of sun reflected in channel,
whiteness of moon in cloudless blue sky

Wooden Boy said...

There are those terrible moments when I catch sight of my own mother, her own "worried and strained" look, and think about how little I've done to draw her out of her solitary hurt.

Back to the debts that Dorn sets out.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

"doesn't see me when she gets on"

The feeling is that she does not want to see him. Is she really this dense or is this city place so crowded? She needs to do something or is doing it and the poet is not part of it. He hunts the memory of her? Ambiguous.

TC said...

Showing the love we feel and and acknowledging the filial debt we know we owe are not easy things. And then the time passes, and it's too late. These are sadnesses.

There is a mutual coyness (as well as a common sense of the strain it is to live) unspoken here perhaps, like mother like son.

When JW and I were first in touch by transatlantic mail, his postal address, unforgettably, was on Joy Street.

Marcia said...

Thank you, Tom, for posting this moving poem by John Wieners. I remember reading this in Joanne's class at NC. Each time I read it, I love it all over again - "talking together between the wire grates of a cage."

TC said...

Yes, Marcia, there's a marvelous (and somewhat ambiguous) sweetness and tenderness in this poem that recalls so much the lovely man who wrote it.