Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Ellen McGrath Smith: My Mother at the Alamo

is really small from here. She’s strolling with her best friend, who has to stop often to catch her failing breath. They’re still alive, which makes me glad. I cannot see the Alamo in any tiny mirror in my mind, can’t see my mother for the monuments and malls jutting into the landscape between us.

My mother at the Alamo is a charm I put on the bracelet of a week, 
seven charms for every day she’s been away; they jangle sweetly on my arm. 

My mother at the Alamo is too small to give birth to me
again, and close-up you can see that she’s too old.

My mother and her friend are in a hotel in the middle of the city, which is built around the river, really more a stream she says. They eat a lot of Tex-Mex food, which she enjoys; she’s texted me to that effect. Today, they’re on their way to the LBJ ranch, the bus they board a gamepiece or a chunk of mulch from here. Johnson was born poor and his ranch is cozy but not extravagant, which impresses my mother more than grandeur would. A fertilizer factory has exploded near where they are. In the same week, the bombs at the Boston Marathon. 

We go on, the days go on. 

My mother at the Alamo will not be unsettled by the size of Texas or its wealth. My mother thinks that money is neutral. My mother used to have to ask my father for money to buy some basic things for us, and that was hard for her. 

Weighted down for decades, like a grounded jet, she was bigger than the sky to me and was in fact my very first editor of the sky, which is a necessary thing when one is frightened, sickly, small and excitable. She blue-pencilled the sky so her editing seemed just another part of sky. My mother at the Alamo is different from my mother who was editor-in-chief: of sky, of me, of God, of father, of the flagrant and ungainly text of life itself. Because this text was large beyond belief and much more bloated than the Goodyear blimp, more volatile than the Hindenberg, my mother in this role was correspondingly massive. She stood against the slant of the roof of our house like a monk at a scriptorium. From there, she could lean into our windows in the morning and wake us from sleep. Her eyeball filled the window like a filter of the sun. My body in my bed was one small lash on that great eye.  

My mother at the roof was truth unpeeling from another
truth in onion fashion, at the center: Nothing. Matter.

My mother at the layout table mattered, scribbling with a fury 
meant to hide the nothing at the center of the house and us. 
Chimney down which gifts arrived obliquely tied to our morality. 
There was a chimney but no fireplace. Not a problem, for my mother, 
as the editor of everything, assumed a tacit kinship between Santa Claus 
and paraclete, so we believed that all good things could pass
through walls so long as we believed. Since my mother was the walls 
and also lived inside their confines, I didn’t doubt her. 

I would later doubt my mother at the sink, her bruised eye shut, or my mother kneeling
near the orange bucket full of dirty water, ready to snap as drunken rants poured down.

But this: my mother stepping off a plane to visit me in Paris, walking closer, pulling me back into scale with every step, until, finally, she was beside me and we were exactly the same size.


Copyright 2019 Ellen McGrath Smith. First published in Connotation Press. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the author.

Ellen McGrath Smith’s most recent collection is Nobody’s Jackknife (West End Press).

Ellen McGrath Smith

One comment on “Ellen McGrath Smith: My Mother at the Alamo

  1. Leo
    May 20, 2019

    Powerfull. Most poems force me to push myself through them hoping something will click, something will touch, move me. Usually there is only disappointment but not with poems such as this. They pull you through to the end effortlessly and you hear yourself mumbling, “Yes, I know!”

    Liked by 2 people

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