Last month, I submitted a poem I wrote in 2008 to a poetry contest honoring non-traditional images of mothering. I was pleased that my poem, “New Same Grief,” was chosen to be made into a video. This was really well done, in my opinion, and I am thankful to the awesome folks at Church of the Larger Fellowship for their work on it.
When I first wrote that poem, I asked my daughter – about whom it is written – if it was okay to share publicly. She said it was fine. That was six years ago, when she was just 12 years old. There’s a lot that happens in any six year period, but certainly there’s really a lot that happen in the life of a person moving from twelve to eighteen. What one cares about at twelve is not really the same thing at eighteen. So I checked with her again to make sure it was still okay with her to have such an intimate poem moving around in the public sphere. It was more than alright with her.
Fast-forward to last week: her last week in high school. In her English class, the last assignment her teacher gave was to write a poem modeled on Mary Oliver’s, “The Summer’s Day:”
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean– the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(Mary Oliver, The House Light Beacon Press Boston, 1990)
I love that poem. I always have. When my kids were younger and I was a poet, I memorized that poem, though the words are lost to me now unless I read them from a printed page. Big props to the English teacher who assigned this task to graduating seniors as summer washes upon them, bringing them out of high school and into the next big thing, into their “one wild and precious life.”
Mariah asked that I share her poem on this blog, a companion to the Mama’s Day poem of mid-May. Marking this end of her high school career, as a proud mother, I am only too happy to oblige.
My Mother’s Daughter by Mariah F. Johnston
Who am I?
Who made me and the way I am?
This girl I am.
The one who talks and acts like her.
The one who looks different.
Who is there for me, teaching me how to read and write.
Who is teaching me to ride a bike.
Now I am leaving after being taught by her to learn on my own.
Now I am growing up still acting like her but not looking like her.
I don’t know what the future holds, will she be near to teach me again?
I do know I will succeed.
She will be there to applaud me on, help me when I fall down.
Will she always be there to teach?
To give me support?
I know I don’t look like her
but I am her in the ways I act, talk, and gesture.
I am my mother’s daughter.