Matriarchy

I am too far into post-holiday-haze to write anything coherent this evening.  Today has not exactly gone as planned, so instead of something original, here’s some poetry from my archives . . .

Matriarchy

My grandmother was a poet.
She grew up in Arkansas,
Poor white trash,
And studied by candlelight after everyone else was asleep,
Praying that her mother wouldn’t find her
Because, “Gracious heavens, Lena Grace,
Who’s going to want to marry
A girl with an education?”
So she put herself through a year of university
After she finished high school
And filled notebook after notebook with her poems.
She married a younger man
And raised three daughters alone
While he worked on the railroad,
Coming home every few days to sleep.
She cleaned the houses of rich women across town
To make ends meet,
And taught fancy manners to her girls
Hoping they were meant for something better
Than blue-collar husbands
And ketchup sandwiches.

My mother, arguably, is the best of her sisters.
Certainly, she is the steadiest.
When it was time for her to start college,
Her mother sat her down and said
“Education is all well and good
But promise me that when you finish
You’ll be able to do something, Rebecca,
Because what feeds your soul
Won’t necessarily buy groceries.”
So she put away her dreams of studying piano
And studied accounting instead,
Finding an unexpected gift
In the patient predictability of numbers.
She dated my father for four years
And when her parents despaired of it going anywhere,
She asked him to buy her a promise ring,
Refusing to be rushed to the altar.
She wore classic, tastefully cut suits
On Sunday mornings
And lived within the carefully painted lines
Of an appropriately submissive pastor’s wife.

And so, I find myself
The dead-end of a long line
Of women determined not to be like their mothers.
Of girls who spend so much time pushing back
That they struggle to find the border
Between “Me” and “Not You.”

But no matter how much red lipstick I wear,
No matter how much cleavage I show
Or how much loud music I listen to,
I will always be my mother’s daughter.
Because bull-headedness is in my genes,
Just like it was in hers.
Because I am a poet,
And a musician,
And I love learning
So much more
Than I love the idea of a man.
And someday,
If I do marry,
It will be someone entirely unlike my father
Who will love that I paint outside the lines,
And we will raise our girls
To be just as brilliantly, stupidly stubborn
As all Cook women are.

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