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Monday, October 11, 2010

My mother tells me it was good

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My mother tells me it was good


Out of the spine of the piano my mother
is calling, and for the first time her voice to me
is jazz. Through my headphones
and a black man’s touch on the keys and strings

I hear her -- the tingles and flashes, rolls, sparks
and hints that used to fill the white church
under the shadow of the cross, telling me
There is more to piano music than "Jesus Saves"

and more to my mother than what I know.
In crystalline notes of his, I recognize her timed pause,
a drop from an icicle melting in the sun
that falls the moment just after you know you want it.

In duet, a saxophone’s smoke rises to the sun,
helping it warm my mother’s piano confessions to me
drop by drop -- those revelations I envisioned, prayers
she breathed in a jazz club before she found God,

suspended, frozen in the veil of her past, yet whispered
through chinks -- in winks and inklings to me
on the black and white hymned keys for the someday, this day,
when I feel their beating hum in the melting icicle of my spine.

~ Ruth M.
Hear a podcast of this poem here.



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65 comments:

Dan Gurney said...

Ruth, I just love this poem... especially your podcast of it that allows me to hear YOUR voice with all of the inflections, pauses, and subtle volume changes that add meaning and feeling to it.

This poem conveys so well the magic of understanding one's parents as humans with the strengths and weaknesses, the character and foibles that all of us embody.

Gwei Mui said...

What a great way to sart my firt working day! The idea that the piano has a spine brought this work really alive
"In duet, a saxophone’s smoke rises to the sun,"
Wonderful - hoping you have a brilliant day :)

Lorenzo said...

This poem is a concierto of introspective reaching into the memories of your mother, listening for the overtones and grace notes of her life, nuances and harmonies that perhaps went unheard in her time but now abide in your timeless musical memory and imaginings. This strikes me as one of your most personal poems and the prelude to many connections, reconnections and discoveries for you (and for your readers). The last stanza is very moving and the last line sent a shiver up my spine, a shudder of recognition.

Terresa said...

Didn't notice the podcast link until now, what a treat! I'll check that out next.

Loved the poem. I just finished reading Sharon Old's collection, "The Unswept Room" in which she addresses child/parent relationships several times, each time with a fresh turning that reopened my heart.

Your poem strikes me as one that elicits a similar turning, especially the rolling power of the last 2 stanzas, you're on fire here in verse!

Arti said...

Thank you Ruth... this is so moving, especially when I hear your voice reading the poem. It feels more personal and intimate hearing it than just reading the words. Your poem reminds me that faith can encompass a lot of things that may look incompatible. One can play both Jazz and Jesus using the same instrument... I'm not saying they are equal, but they can co-exist.

Ginnie said...

The chill in my spine right now, sister Ruth, is that Jazz music often speaks to me than any other. Is Mom more in me than I know? Surely yes, but it brings a pause of astonishment.

Hearing YOU read your poem is the icing on the cake. Thank you for this added treat! And Mother said, "It is good." :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, Dan, so much. I remember once as an adolescent when it occurred to me that my mother was a person. It's such a wake-up call!

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, oh that's terrific. Thank you for beginning with me here today. I am saying with all my best wishes: Break a leg!

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, yes, this poem is very personal, and one of the hardest I've tried to write. I don't know why it came so hard. But once it found its shape (and trope), it seemed to resolve itself. I'm glad you share the shiver.

Ruth said...

Terresa, I love Sharon Olds. I have not read that collection, but I have seen your previous comments about it, and I am intrigued. No one can delve into the raw emotions quite as she does, and I do have her in my subconscious, and sometimes conscious mind, when I try to go deeper. Thank you for your kind praise for this attempt at getting into the memory and emotion banks about my mom.

Ruth said...

Arti, yes, what you say is true. The musician I was listening to is Don Pullen, and his background is in church, which I imagine had some soulful music in the worship. We just watched "Ray" the other night, and I was very interested to see how Ray Charles pioneered the combination of gospel music into a secular genre about love.

Ruth said...

Boots, I wonder. For me, the saxophone represents what Mom turned away from, and it's taken a long time for me to hear her in its music, and let that be resolved somehow. Perhaps I'm creating a fiction.

Thank you for the Mother's blessing. :)

Claudia said...

Good morning, Ruth. It's official: you are now one of my favourite poets. I seriously love this poem.

a drop from an icicle melting in the sun
that falls the moment just after you know you want it.


...wow!

Shari Sunday said...

Ruth, I finally downloaded what I need to hear your podcast. It was wonderful. Wonderful poem. Made me want to hear the music. You have a beautiful voice. Isn't technology amazing?

Bonnie said...

mmmmm - lovely familiar strains

Ruth said...

Claudia, what a declaration!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, my friend.

Ruth said...

Hello, Shari, thank you for going to that trouble, and for listening, and for your kindness.

Yes, technology is something I depend upon, and then complain about when it goes wrong. At the moment I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of the little "click" when I mouse click and unclick the record button. :)

Ruth said...

Dear Bonnie, did you type that sweet comment with one finger? I'm so sorry about your broken wrist. Help yourself to some ice from this poem . . .

Bad joke, sorry.

George said...

This may be my favorite of your poems, Ruth. I love the repeated theme of icicles, and the notion of "piano confessions" resonates deeply with me, because my own introduction to the creative process began with my learning to play the piano by ear.

Given the intimate connection between music and the mystical, I'm curious about your observation that your mother's prayers were "breathed in a jazz club before she found God." It sounds as if the the jazz may have been her pathway to the divine. I know nothing about this, of course, but the poem has me asking all kinds of questions, which means, of course, that it is a great, evocative poem.

Ruth said...

Thank you, George, that this may be your favorite means a lot to me, because this one is special and important to me for a number of reasons.

It's interesting what you say about the intimate connection between the music and the mystical. I just read and posted at my Rumi blog on the 8th Rumi's lines:

Philosophers have said that we love music
because it resembles the sphere-sounds of union.


To answer your curiosity about my mom and jazz clubs, let me say I know little more than you about it, except that she rejected jazz consciously and communicated to me that her life in NYC before her born again experience was one of intellectualism in jazz clubs. The way she said it to me was that she was always looking for the "right" spiritual path, and she and her friends even "made up religions"! Her astrologer father found her to be a very spiritual person and devoted one of his issues of Astrology magazine to her, with an epigraph to that effect. I wish I knew more, George. What I don't know, I fill in, from my own heart.

Jazz really represents something for me that has to do with the lost (my mom) and found (mine) -- of what is divine in all things (I don't mean pantheism, I don't think). It all began in Paris after my mom died, and my sister and I went to a jazz club . . .

As Lorenzo said in his comment, I am at the start of discovery.

willow said...

There is more to piano music than "Jesus Saves" and more to my mother than what I know.

I feel like this line is really the crux of your beautiful piece. I hope your mother didn't give up jazz when she found God.

João said...

there's echo on your voice...Jazz is God and God is Jazz and symmetry too.
both a piano and a mother at home is a place you called home, others heaven.

Ruth said...

willow, I'm afraid she did, and not only gave it up, but rejected it vehemently. I think she associated it with her pre-Christian lifestyle, which I think was pretty free. What I'm starting to do is to imagine that it wasn't completely obliterated in her, and explore jazz's possibilities in myself.

Ruth said...

João, Jazz = God, God = Jazz . . . I like that.

Yes, you got it, except that it was heaven for me too, waking up to piano music when she practiced Saturday mornings.

Expat From Hell said...

"Prayers she breathed in a jazz club before she found God". I am transfixed by the flow of this work! My mother, too, plays to God with her work. But, I too hear the other language that flows beneath it. Even though she would never darken the door of a smoky jazz club, it occurs to me that now I understand Bill Evans thanks to my mother. And now, I understand it more clearly when I know there is another out there who can express it so well. Bravo, Ruth! EFH

Friko said...

If this poem is autobiographical then you are very fortunate to hear your mother's true voice in the keys.
So often what we think we know of each other is just the face we put on, the persona we present, even to close family. Or perhaps particularly to close family.

I like your poem. It made me look inside.

Patricia said...

I do love this poem and was delighted to have the sound of your voice reading it aloud. How amazing is that?
Words printed and words spoken are so different. Thank you for this aesthetic experience.

The Bug said...

My favorite line: prayers she breathed in a jazz club - because I don't think you find God only in a building & I also don't think that particular God is the only one. Great poem!

Char said...

completely beautiful - i wish i had more to add. but for today, this is enough.

ds said...

Ruth, I came to this late last night (too late to listen; never too late to read) and have had the spine of the piano--such a perfect image, think of what we did as kids running one finger up and down the keys--in my head all day long. And the icicles, that perfect line, just before it is about to fall. The anticipation...
And now I've just heard you read, and got the shiver up my own spine, for there were the connections: spine, icicle, mother, piano...
It is good, Ruth. In fact, it's better than good: it's perfect. You sat right down and hit middle C without looking. Perfect.

(and because when I come late & write a novel here I also have the pleasure of reading others' responses, I say with Terresa, do read The Unswept Room by Sharon Olds; it will fit you, and fill you...it's the only one of hers that I own and glad I am of it)

Ruth said...

Kent, how I love that this poem connected with you this way, and your own story, and your mom's. Also incredibly valuable is your introduction, at this very early moment in jazz appreciation for me, to Bill Evans. I am at this moment browsing the iTunes store for something to download, after listening to a couple of online clips. I was very moved. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Friko, thank you.

For me, what I mean by autobiographical, which this poem is, I call imagined memoir. There is far more that I don't know, than what I know, of my family's histories. My mother's has fascinated me since I was a girl, and I played it out in front of a mirror. But she was not able to talk about those days. This is just me, making it up in front of the mirror of myself.

Ruth said...

Dear Patricia, I feel so good, knowing you love the poem, both reading and hearing. Since Lorenzo posted his recording of the Rainstick poem a while back, I too have been struck by the added dimension of understanding and connection, and so I followed his lead.

Ruth said...

Dana, amen, Sister.

Thank you!

Ruth said...

Char, completely appreciated, and enough.

Ruth said...

DS, my friend, what can I say. You're the best blog buddy. If you like my poem, all is well, my literary friend. "Perfect" and "middle C" fill me up to the brim. Thank you so much.

And thank you for the second to Terresa's rec for The Unswept Room. I have The Father and one other whose title escapes me, oh, Satan Says. From what I've seen of The Unswept Room, I believe you are right, that it will fit me and fill me. I think I need to take my $75 gift card to my bookstore soon . . .

rauf said...

The best rapper is a White and the best golfer is Black ? said Chris Rock. Dave Brubeck is one of the best saxophonist in my opinion. Wish there were recordings of your mother Ruth. But still some one can play and record with the help of her notes.
Jazz is loved by all.

Ruth said...

rauf, thank you for Dave Brubeck, I'll look for him too. First Bill Evans, now Dave Brubeck. There is no end to what I do not know. This poem was written after listening to Don Pullen. Do you know him, rauf?

I am not sure if I agree with you last statement. Let me think about it. My mom did not like jazz. But maybe it was more that she liked jazz, but she rejected it, and her like of it.

rauf said...

owee ! never heard of Don Pullen Ruth. Thank you. EEEEEEEEEE

Ruth said...

rauf, please listen to his bootleg series, like this one.

dutchbaby said...

Thank you for this spine-tingling and spine-melting poem, Ruth.

I'm not sure jazz is loved by all, but I think there's a good chance your mother loved jazz. I think of jazz as violating borders while staying true to the line of the music. From the posts I've read about your mother, I get the sense that she concentrated on staying within the borders of her religion, never daring to go beyond them for fear of losing control. She may have feared that jazz may have triggered a loss of control.

I love that your mother is now speaking to you in jazz.

***

At the top of my jazz playlist is my favorite jazz song, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". One of my all-time most memorable concert moments was in the spring of 2008, when I heard Dave Brubeck, at age 88, play "Take Five" with David Benoit. I will always cherish that crystalline night under the stars at Villa Montalvo a few miles south of here. Here's a clip from 1961:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwNrmYRiX_o&feature=related

Every note is perfection.

Oliag said...

I first want to mention that I love the additions of the podcasts to hear you recite your own poems. Poetry so needs to be a spoken art for me...even when I am trying to read a new poem in a NYer magazine I find I have to say it out loud...then I will think "Oh yes!"...or not. Anyways I feel it is a gift to be able to hear the poet speak her own words.

And the poem? As usual I don't have the words to describe how the poem made me feel...but it was good. We spend our whole lives discovering new layers to our mothers. Your poem is beautiful.

Babs-beetle said...

That was beautiful when I read it, but even more beautiful when I listened to it. What a lovely accent you have. I think you sound like you look. Does that make sense? :)

I wish you always did your poems as a podcast.

Peter said...

I don't know what to add... You have got all kinds of compliments and you more than worthy of them! I was also especially struck by the lines that Claudia quotes. Such a perfect image! ... and of course to listen to your voice!

Ruth said...

My dear Dutchbaby, it's so good to see you. I missed you. I imagine you have been into some very good galavanting.

Well, I think you might have nailed it. Based on what I know of her, you must be right. I don't think you love jazz, and then stop loving it, just because you feel it's "wrong". I also think that she turned from it because of its associations with another life, a life that she came to believe was outside those borders you spoke of.

Thank you, and rauf, for Dave Brubeck. My Internet is spazzy this morning, but the bits I've got loaded of "Take Five" and have heard (grrrr, not at all like that drop that drops the moment after you want it, more like it just won't ever drop, dammit! Load . . . Load . . . see Bill Murray coaxing here . . . ) are quite recognizable to me! So apparently I'm familiar with him, but not by name. That's changed now. So smoooooth.

Ruth said...

Dear Oliag, we must be the same in this, because hearing a poem read, and reading it several times, is helpful to comprehension and feeling.

I'm glad it was good. That is a fine pronouncement, sort of like my mother's, in the title of this poem. There is light in good. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Hi, Babs, thank you, that's good to hear, both that you like my accent (I have an accent?) and that I sound like I look. It does make sense, and there is some relief in that. :)

I have recorded many poems that are at that site, so have a listen. Several were first posted here in the blog these last couple years, and some are older. I'll try to eventually get all the ones up that I think are worth a listen. What's interesting is that I also feel differently about them, hearing them, like meeting old friends.

And soon we get to hear Mo sing at yours!!!

Ruth said...

Oh hello, dear Peter. I am so happy to see you back. Welcome, dear friend. I hope you are doing well.

Thank you for your kind words about the poem, those lines, and hearing my voice. I hope we can hear each other in person one day, while we go for a very long stroll in Montmartre, in the warm October sun.

Jeanie said...

Please send this to New Yorker. Or Garrison Keillor. Or someplace, somewhere, because it is the most wonderful poem. Eloquent, simple, heartfelt, and absolutely lovely.

The Solitary Walker said...

Wow, Ruth, that poem was quite wonderful! You have a gift. It reverberates in the mind and down the spine - long after the icicle has melted. Well done.

Ruth said...

Oh, Jeanie, thank you so very much, my friend, for your incredible vote of confidence.

Ruth said...

Hello, and welcome, Robert. Thank you for your wonderful! comment! I am so grateful. Thank you for sitting with me at this stop on my "solitary walk" . . . which doesn't feel so solitary at the moment.

Loring Wirbel said...

These are so powerful read in a podcast. Now you're getting me inspired.... So wonderful to see the farm Saturday, too....

Margaret Bednar said...

Life is funny. When we are young, our mothers do tell us many things - some things we are too young to understand or they go in one ear and out the other. I often think if I had been more observant I might have been able to catch the deeper meaning (of things said and not said). As we get older and reflect, so many questions arise (at least for me) and I realize my mothers love is so very deep, so wise, and a bit guarded... Guarded in that she is hesitant to share certain things and I wonder if it is to not tarnish the "image" or they are too painful for her. I know my children (especially the older ones) ponder life and ask many questions - not all needing answers, of course. I hesitate at times - how much of myself do I reveal... how much do they need to find out for themselves. Well, I loved your poem and I am new to poetry - not sure if I am even on the right track... All of our experiences make us who we are - interesting to ponder the idea that the things we "run away" from or banish might still be detectable in the things we do...

Margaret Bednar said...

When I say "my mothers love is so deep and wise..." Not talking about me here, but my 80+ year old mother who is still very much alive and well.

Ruth said...

Loring, I can see you recording yours!! I hope so.

The farm tells me it was wonderful to see you too.

Ruth said...

Margaret, I knew you were talking about your mom.

Your excellent comment reminds me of a piece of wisdom I heard along the way, while raising our kids, which is that a parent doesn't have to answer a child's question with more than they want to know. The adult perspective sometimes thinks we have to divulge every living detail. I've learned (the hard way), that there are some things our kids don't need, or want to know.

My brother began recording Mom and Dad at some point to get their stories documented - their histories and things like that. I'm interested in those things. But now I'm more interested in what shaped who they were? But since they are not here to ask, that contemplation is becoming an imagined memoir, and of course it's about how who they were shaped, and shapes, me. Hope that makes sense.

Susan said...

Ruthie, I'm imagining that your mother was the Diana Krall of her time. Your ode to her was perfection and I can also imagine her writing and playing music to fit it.

The band director at our high school always used to play "Take Five" for us. It was my introduction to Dave Brubeck and a life-long appreciation of his music.

mystic rose said...

While I don't know anything of the background, I haven't been introduced to Jazz properly yet, I love this poem. The way you captured the sudden deep connection to your mother's spirit as it was then :) . Amazing how it flows with such depth and sensitivity through out.


It also makes me wonder what my children will remember about their childhood, and the importance of sharing our love for finer things with them :)

deb said...

Ruth,
I read and reread.
(I will listen later when the house is quiet again.. my daughter is up already, )

regardless of the fact that I know little of jazz ,
this
this was so incredibly powerful. I always hesitate to let myself go into that mother/daughter place because it is so raw for me still. But I trusted your journey back and in and forward would no doubt reveal even more of your elegance and gift for imagery so I was completely wowed. I hope you share more as you work your way through this.

Ruth said...

Susie, those are lovely thoughts, my friend. I'm afraid my mother's thoughts were caged. It's nice to imagine how things might have been for her.

Another Dave Brubeck fan, great!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Mystic. It is something to contemplate, how we will be viewed by our children. I think about it now, and I am sobered and humbled by my many mistakes. I hope they will remember me through different filters.

:)

Ruth said...

Deb, thank you so much. It means a lot to me that this was powerful for you. Sometimes I wonder about sharing more intimate journeys here at the blog. But if and when someone connects and finds solace or understanding, it feels like a good thing.

I hope that when you attempt to go into that raw place, you will have support for the journey.

deb said...

Ruth,
I started out blogging to sort of journey to forgiveness during Lent. And I did "put myself out there" a few times and received nothing but compassion and connections. It was and still is incredible. Some of my readers have been with me almost from the beginning .
But now I worry, only because of course the stories I have to tell are not mine alone. And my memories are not the whole picture. There have been a few people encouraging me to share in a memoir type way and I agree that it is my truth and could help people, as well as bring more healing and understanding to myself. Yet. I am stuck . I think we should move on... but . Yet.
Sorry for the ramble. I've been troubled about all of this lately so you're getting bits of my self talk.

hugs to you for "listening"

Brendan said...

Whoosh ... more than a little of the needle's whiteout (in the style of the cool jazzmen of the Fifties) to encounter, so late, this rush of poem ... But then all of my discoveries in music have stood on the shoulders of other -- I've arrived here, by way of so many other songs .... Finding your way back to your mother in this piano jazz song -- and so hearing, in her first technique in your ear, vibrations of the jazzman playing in the present: time and space really don't exist along this halcyon precipice, do they?

Somehow along my path my tastes morphed, from playing music to writing poems, from rock guitar to jazz piano, from blondes to auburns, from wildness to serenity. I found Bill Evans through Lyle Mays through Jimmie Page through the toy guitar I used to serenade Big Toad when I was 3, when I was singing "You've Got To Believe In Spring" in my mother tongue (she had a sea-voice before it got lost in a church-voice).

Great, great poem; it's so hard to write in words about what precisely happens in music, but that caeusra of a drop from an icicle melting in the sun / that falls the moment just after you know you want it couldn't be closer to my kind of blue. - Brendan