by Josephine Balmer
Today is Mothering Sunday in the UK. It would also have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. It’s a difficult day for all who have lost a beloved parent – or child – but the following poem, from my forthcoming sonnet sequence, Letting Go (Agenda Editions, July 2017), sees the beginning of a reconciliation with grief, offering in its place a celebration of mothers and daughters through the generations. Its starting point is a passage from Homer’s Odyssey Book 9 (lines21-8) in which Odysseus, who has been washed ashore on Phaeacia, longingly tells the Phaeacians of his own home island of Ithaca from which he has now been absent for 20 years.
Odysseus’s description seemed to chime with the view from a seat on the coastal foot path near my mother’s childhood house in Marazion, west Cornwall. As a girl, my mother often sat on the seat with her own mother or her aunt on the way to church at Perranuthnoe on Sunday evenings. Later I sat with her there many times, looking out over St Michael’s Mount and its Bay, chatting about family or the wildflowers we saw in the verges. I sat there again last April with my husband Paul just as the blossom was coming out along the hedgerows:
Even from the bench, the bay is undimmed;
beyond hazy blackthorn the Mount quivers
as its pine trees tilt, reeled back by the wind –
the marker that tells us we’re really here
at the far point, lying low, facing west.
Below, rocks snag across a land on loan
from the turning tide, shrunk into darkness.
Nothing soothes the soul like the sight of home:
this one rears daughters fierce as fighting men.
Here’s where you rested with your own mother
watching swifts dip, dissect the setting sun,
by paths picked out in selfheal and clover.
Blood and bone pack the sacred ground beneath:
your place. My longed-for Ithaca. Our seat.