February 14 – Valentine for My Mother

by Linda M. Hasselstrom

January 7.

On this day in 1957, a Monday, my mother wrote, “A lovely washday. . . . and I felt like working.” What a good reminder that I should concentrate on the positive things my parents wrote! I’m so invigorated that I take a break from my writing to mop the kitchen floor.

February 14. Valentine’s Day. 10 degrees with a cold wind at 5:26 a.m..

Valentine for my Mother

Cut flowers don’t last
says a woman’s voice.
I spin around in the Safeway aisle
expecting to see my mother
who’s been dead all winter.

Cut flowers don’t last,
she says again,
the woman with blue hair
beside the flower display,
shaking her head at the young man
still reaching for a bouquet
wrapped in red paper.

She sounds like my mother,
mouth pursed, not smiling,
each time I brought a bouquet
to the nursing home. You shouldn’t
have spent the money, she’d say.
Cut flowers don’t last.

I picked them
from my garden, I’d say.
She’d snort.
Cut flowers don’t last.
So I brought slips
from my plants,
potted them for
her window sill. She didn’t
give them water.

II.
When I was growing up
Mother served our meals on Melmac
scrawled with scratches,
kept the good china
in the cupboard
so it would last.

During that final year
she was alive, she asked once
about her good china. Safe
in my glass-front hutch, I told her.

At ninety-two she took her final breath.
I covered her pink enamel coffin
with roses the color of every blouse
she gave me no matter how many times
I told her I hated pink.
As I paid the florist
with her money, I told him
Cut flowers don’t last.

III.
Now in the Safeway aisle
I smile at the young man
who is carrying the flowers
toward the checkout stand.
Cut flowers don’t last
she says once more.

Tomorrow all the blooms
that do not sell will pucker
in the dumpster
brown as the roses whipped
by the cemetery wind
the day after my mother’s burial.
Cut flowers don’t last
I muttered to the mound
above her heart.

IV.
I gave her dishes to my cousin’s
daughter. In my gardens,
I cut flowers, thinking of my mother.
Blooms scent every room,
reflect themselves even
in the bathroom mirror.
Every night from the arbor
I watch the sunset
that will never come again.

I’ve worked on that poem a long time, half embarrassed because of its negative mood, but it expresses feelings I’ve carried for a long time too, and my recovery from them.

February 15.

And all day, whenever I looked down at the ranch buildings, I thought I saw my father just stepping into the corral or my mother shaking a rug on the porch.

—From Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, High Plains Press, 2017. paperback, 320 pages, $19.95; limited edition hardcover, 320 pages, $29.95. www.highplainspress.com

Linda M. Hasselstrom conducts writing retreats in person and by email from her South Dakota ranch. Her newest of 17 books is Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, written thirty years after her first book, Windbreak, also a ranch diary. Recent poems appear in Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky (Spoon River Poetry Press). www.WindbreakHouse.comwww.WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com.

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5 responses to “February 14 – Valentine for My Mother

  1. Such a beautiful poem, capturing the gamut of feelings that go with the loss of a loved one – especially a mother. (My mother hated cut flowers also – made me smile.)

  2. Hi,
    I love, love your poem. Didn’t feel negativity at all just sadness. Glad you shared it here.

  3. Thank you both for seeing the positive side of this. Mothers and daughters: what a convoluted topic. You have made my day much brighter by responding!

  4. Lovely post Linda.
    It is a day to celebrate our hearts / memories.
    Purchasing cut flowers from Safeway is on my “To Do” list today. Made me smile.

  5. I loved it! I have just returned from a Poetry class and this poem is so expressive. I even could get an image of your mother. A very stern, caring woman who was frugal all of her life. I had one like her, except she did like cut flowers; especially lilacs.

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