My mother’s haiku


Daughter, it seems
that I talked nonstop
now I speak without talking

Somewhere around 2010, I taught a class in our four-week May term on writing poetry in forms. One project we did together: after reading more serious haiku and renku, my students had to staff a public booth and write haiku on commission in exchange for donations to the local foodbank. This involved interviewing clients about the messages they wished to send; composing custom haiku based on the interviews; and transcribing them on pretty postcards the clients could send to whomever they wished. To give my students practice in advance, I had them interview me about my mother, and I sent their haiku to her in time for Mother’s Day.

To my amazement, my mother wrote haiku back to my students (English 205). I spotted the sheet earlier this year but wasn’t in any frame of mind to reread them, so I resolved I would pull them out for Mother’s Day 2022. It feels uncanny to hear her voice in them now. She references my daughter dying her hair blue at thirteen; after returning to blondness for more than a decade, my twenty-five-year-old daughter has recently gone blue-haired again. The Lydia in the last verse was my daughter’s closest friend then (I have no idea about “handsome poopface.”) The “cheeky, cheeky boy” is my son Cam (twenty-one and still cheeky).

My mother was a reader, not a poet, other than on this occasion (as far as I know). I’m grateful to have this gift now and smiling as I remember how she upstaged me every Mother’s Day after my kids were born–phoning early to wish ME happy Mother’s Day before I managed to call her. I’m also recalling how frustrated she became with her own mother around this time every year. My nan, who could be pretty feisty, would call annually to reproach my mother for not sending a “Mothering Sunday” card. The English holiday comes earlier than the American version. “I keep explaining to her that Mother’s Day cards aren’t in the shops here yet,” my mother groused. “I should buy some and save them for the following spring, but I never remember.”

My daughter is in Philadelphia and my son even further away–still Budapest–so it’s a quiet weekend here. I’m tired enough after semester’s end (I’m not teaching May term this year) to welcome quiet weekends. I spent this week wrapping up committee work; doing publicity tasks for Poetry’s Possible Worlds, which launches just nine days from now (!); and starting revisions of my second novel, which I’ll be seeking feedback on this summer at the Cascade Writers Workshop.

As I hope you’ll have a chance to see soon, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is dedicated to my mother. In the meantime, here are a couple more of my mother’s own poems, going out to you with good wishes, whether or not you are a mother, are remembering your own, or are rolling your eyes because it’s a Hallmark holiday, really, and anyway Mothering Sunday was WEEKS ago…

I send love back 
on forty year old notepaper 
with corrections needed 

I am walking those paths 
slower now, but calmer 
Springtime still calls me

2 responses to “My mother’s haiku”

  1. What a fun assignment, and a lovely memory from your mother’s response. Gives me an idea for fundraising; several folks in the local literary community are quite devoted to haiku and might enjoy staffing such a booth…

    Liked by 1 person

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