THE MAKING OF THE MOTHER : PORTRAITS
The Laugh of Medusa
This one's a mother who with each passing year becomes more selfless. This is a mother who is dropping everything of hers to do her daughter's bidding. At her daughter's bidding, this is a mother who is passing away into selflessness, more and more, more and more she is dropping everything that is hers, to buy groceries, to take her daughter clothes shopping, to keep her cupboards appealing.
This is a mother who thinks she should be found in the kitchen morning, noon, and night. This is one who thinks she should be an appliance, a permanent fixture like a microwave, ready to spring into use when one of her hungry daughters wanders into the kitchen. She thinks she shouldn't look like an appliance, all hard and cold and made of steel, but she should be like an appliance with buttons that her daughters can push. On/off. On/off. This is a mother who thinks she should be standing in the kitchen, ready and waiting, in a white apron. This is a mother who thinks she should wear pearls when she is cooking. A theme of white. This is a mother who thinks these white things but gets the family's dinner from a drive thru. This is a mother who can't stand in the kitchen because she is standing in a bank counting other people's money. This is a mother who fingers the dollar bills of strangers and thinks about where she is supposed to be so that her daughters could find her morning, noon, and night, but she never is. This is a mother who thinks about snow.
The rhythm of the mother's chopping onions hurts her daughter's soul. Chop. Chop. Chop. Pause.
This is a mother who can't finish her sentences and wishes she could but she is perpetually stranded in the middle of a blue veined thought, one flash propels her forward into the morning to the cries echoing from inside the open bedroom door and another flash turns her back in a circle to midnight and the porch where her own mother once called her to come home, no stroke sees her safely to shore to the end of the white corridor of time, no stroke straightens out the serpentine course of rescues and mistakes, the family all tucked tightly into their respective beds, no matter how hard this mother presses her temples her thoughts loop from cry to call a catalogue of loss, from bed to bed, moment to moment in a score of moments as the wind is always moving, touching but never resting, each air draft inseparable pushing along in an upward current into a sky that loves her.
This is a mother who still holds her daughter's hand when they're walking down the street. Her daughter is 18 years old. This is a mother who wants her daughter to look and act and be just like her. This is a daughter who does not resist what her mother wants. As the years pass this is a daughter who is becoming her mother. This is a mother who is always receding into the background. This is a mother who is always refilling platters, emptying trash, washing dishes. This is a daughter who with each passing year is receding into the background, watching her brother from the wings doing his tricks, clapping along with her mother and others. This is a mother who wears little Sunday school white gloves to bed to keep her hands innocent. This is a daughter who in time will too.
This is a mother who, as she is walking home from work after a long day, eats the sorrow that is seeping out of the windows of parked cars, leaking out of the averted eyes of the passerby, oozing from the cracks of the sidewalk. This is a mother who is getting fat with the world's sorrow. This is a mother to whom stories snake out of the dense ivy that would make you weep if you could hear them. This is a mother who doesn't turn away from what makes her weep—the story of the child who sat on her front stoop waiting for her parents to come home until the cement froze over with ice; the story of the child who disappeared with the bottle of milk her mother sent her to fetch; the story of the mother who lost her daughter when the ice broke on the river her daughter was skating. This is a mother who is a poet, though no one knows it, not even the mother.
This is a mother who when she was a girl was afraid of the mother. The mother turned down the sheets of her bed through soft ferns of moonlight while the father turned the pages of newspaper under bright lamp light. As a girl she heard the mother breathing through the open window and she was afraid. The mother brushed the girl's hair and polished her shoes. She learned how to cook the meals the girl liked. Yet each night when the mother filled the tub with hot clean water and called the girl to come home with It's time and the water is running, the girl stepped back through the trees.
I came to think of the piece as a kind of gallery room that houses portraits and was helped by Gertrude Stein's work in portraiture. I wanted a torque between myth, theories of feminine identity, and my own point of view.