Over The River And Through The Words

January 24, 2011

A little girl, asked where her home was, replied, “where mother is.” • Keith L. Brooks

A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. • Washington Irving

My mother died two weeks ago and I cannot find the words I need to write about her life. I’ve tried. Begun and then begun again and yet again. The finality of this summing up constricts me, requires significance and weight and seriousness, all elusive in these tender days of memory. Instead I find myself awash in other words that dance around the edges of her life.

Elegy for My Mother’s Stuff*

Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn, January 23, 2011

There is the loss.

Yes, there is that.

But next to what is lost,

this is the hardest thing,

this letting go:

Closets cleaned, her favorite

black watch plaid will warm

someone unknown, and

cupboards now are bared of

long-remembered meals. How much

I wish I’d kept the old spaghetti pot

that I don’t need (since need has never

stopped me). No.

This is the hardest thing,

this letting go.

Drawers emptied, counters

cleared of life’s ephemera,

divided into keep don’t keep,

discarding every thing that meant

something, though not to other eyes,

and how I long to find the key that

signifies the pocketwatch the rings the letters,

all the many things we box or toss because

they’re meaning less than those

we save. And yet I do not save enough

and seek forgiveness when I reject

blue-flowered china that she loved.

This is the hardest thing,

this letting go of oh so many things

that I imagine would bring her back to me

in momentary magical connection.

This is the hardest thing:

Swift efficiency. Get-it-done.

Let-it-go. Clear-it-out. It’s-only-stuff. And yet

this is the hardest thing.

This. Letting. Going. Going.


And now I realize I have lied. This was the hardest thing: locking the door to my mother’s apartment, leaving the key inside, passing the “apartment for rent” sign outside her building, and knowing that I will never again go back to mom’s.

Who and what do you remember?

My mother is a poem/I’ll never be able to write,/though everything I write/is a poem to my mother. • Sharon Doubiago

I miss thee, my Mother!  Thy image is still/The deepest impressed on my heart. • Eliza Cook

* Please note: Cutting and pasting from this version of Word will not allow me to format the poem as I wrote it. The doublespacing is not mine. Drat and blast computers that think they know what I want. They do not.



  1. Hello. I stumbled upon your blog while Googling the source of the quote about abandoned poems. I could so relate to your words, your struggle, your loss. Your mother sounds like an exceptional person. My mother, also very intelligent and unconventional, used to say, “The best friends you’ll ever have are the ones you raised yourself.” She was only 66 when she died in 1989, and I still miss her. I take great comfort in my children, who I count among my best friends, and in whose faces I often catch glimpses of my mother. I wish you comfort and peace.

    • I love what your mother said–it’s so important to cherish your children and have fun with them. We certainly all had fun with my mom, who preferred going roller skating to cleaning the house and riding roller coasters to cooking. We were delighted to go along with her program! I wish you comfort and peace as well, along with the joy of remembrance. W-OZ

  2. mmmmmm….A smile for her, big, tomorrow where ever I go!

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