Sunday, July 4, 2010

Understanding my poem "Mom"

Maybe it's too obscure. The fact that I have not had any published poems perhaps means that I need some real help in writing them. Well, what can I say? Whatever the case, I have a total understanding of my poem because I experienced it and still continue to do so. But you, dear reader, have not experienced what I have. How could you? Your life is your own; you have your own stories to tell. And that's basically what this poem is--a story. It's the story of my mom (mostly).

It's a short poem, but I'll give it a run-through to help you understand it. The first stanza tells it all. When the shadows are long in late July, 13-year-old boys ride their bmx bikes all over Grand Haven, where I grew up. In 1985, my plan for the day was: ride. Ride to the beach. Ride through the woods. Ride with my bb gun, or with my baseball glove and bat. Ride with my fishing pole and a bucket. Ride to a friend's house, venture on a trip to the long, and sometimes steep, rolling hills in Lakeside Cemetery where the waves of Lake Michigan hiss in the distance through the wooded hills. Explore the beach. Jump off the pier. And don't bother with eating, cuz there's too much riding to be done. I think I had a paper route at the time, but maybe I had quit. There's too much riding to be done. That's life in Grand Haven...

After a good day of my favorite things, I held up fort in the middle of 178th Street down by my good buddy Mike Hansen's house. Me and Mike and John--the junior high school locker room attendant--were talking. John was older than us. An adult. "My mom's on her way home from Chicago, visiting her parents," I said. "When did she leave?" John asks. "She left some time late this morning," I reply. At this point I remember John smiles at me, but he has a look of concern too. He adds that a trip from Chicago to Grand Haven just doesn't take all day. The shadows are long, you see, and your mom should be home by now. It's at this point that he says, "Shouldn't you be getting home by now?" I remember feeling very scared. John's right. My mom should be home. And so should I. I peel into to my driveway, crunching the gravel only in a flash before hitting the cement, and jump off the bike, letting it crash into the shrubs. It lay there like a wiped out skier.

Mom wasn't there. Dad was on the phone. He was calling gramma and grampa. They said she left a long time ago. She should be home by now. Next, Dad called the State Police. Do you know if there have been any accidents?

"The long shadows of the evening set in"

This next stanza, beginning with the "long shadows" and the elms and oaks are the memory I have of 178th St. before I rode home that night. The trees stand tall there, like towers that sing. That's what a "din" is. It's "A chorus of life."

So that night, "I spent it in a sigh, too wired for a sleep," as the poem says. I remember rubbing a golden cross between my thumb and forefinger, praying for God to bring my mom home. The next morning my dad woke me up. "Take a shower. We have to go to Indianapolis. Mom's been in an accident." "Is it bad?" I ask. "Yes," he says.

"You must've been traveling at the time
We saw you the next day lying in a bed"

This means that mom must have been on the road or maybe the accident had already occurred when I was talking with Mike and John. Here's what happened: she had gone the wrong way down a construction zone and hit another car head-on. A mom and her four children. The children lived, I'm told. I even know their last name. My mom lost one of her legs above the knee, received a closed-head brain injury, and just really got beat up all over her whole body. She suffers continued and added ailments because of this accident from so long ago.

"The other day I paid you a visit"

The next stanza fast-forwards 25 years to 2010, when I visit my mom in the nursing home. My strong arms lift her out of bed. She's wet all over. Her eyes are tired but there is joy in them. I'm here to visit and she hasn't seen me in a long time because my family moved out of state. (Not many jobs in Grand Haven. Turns out not many in western North Carolina either. But we have good things).

"Yet you've been traveling all this time, waiting.
Shouldn't you be getting home by now?"

This last stanza is about my mom's life. Like the rest of us, she's on a journey through life. Even though she's in a wheel chair and lives in a nursing home, she's still traveling like the rest of us. The last question echos what John said to me as a boy in 1985: "Shouldn't you be getting home by now?" But this time, my mom is the recipient of the question. My mom's desire is to be home with the Lord Jesus. That's her home, and he will welcome her some day.

I ask the question "Shouldn't you be getting home by now?" because my mom wants to be home with the Lord. St. Paul the Apostle says that in Philippians chapter 1. "To live is Christ, and to die is gain," he adds. He mentions that because he suffered a lot of persecution for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. Paul goes on, "If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."

Mom's not persecuted for her religion, but you get the point of application. She loves to hear from her family, and to see her grandchildren, but in suffering, people really want to be home with the Lord Jesus. That's life on earth--living with suffering, and having hope in the resurrection of the dead, being comforted by those we love, and comforting others with love.


Anonymous said...

You made me cry. Brings up thoughts of my own mom and how much i miss her everyday. Excellent writing as always.
Safe travels to Ethiopia.

chris van allsburg said...

Thanks so much Anonymous. Would you mind telling me who you are? You can email me at

Thanks so much for your kind words regarding my writing. Hope you are well....yes--losing one's mom--or parent--at a young age...There's nothing to compare to it, is there?


Anonymous said...

no, anonymous is trouble that way. besides, you already know.
teach & learn in Addis.