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Poem: This is not my story

January 29, 2009

This is not my story

I thought I knew the story of my mother:
she died of cancer when I was 12, died
deeply in love with Grant, and me, and Grant’s
daughter Emma. She loved rock climbing
and hiking, adventures and camping,
Yosemite and the Grand Tetons.  Me.

I had enough of my mother to figure
out her story: I had her photographs,
drawings, letters, had her day book with notes,
dates, schedules, cycles, could piece together
her where, when,  who, birthdays of people who
mattered, her marks on the days of her life.

Then one day I discovered I knew nothing:
that was the day my half brother called, the
brother she put up for adoption, the
brother everyone knew about but never
told me about. My half-brother. My
mother’s son. My mother’s other child.

And then another day, a few days later:
I found out my father loved my mother.
Really loved my mother. Had loved her all along.
Had not just married her because of me.
Had married my mother because of her.
And I knew the story of my mother

was just that—a story I’d made up.
I realized I didn’t know her at
all. I knew my illusion of her.
And losing the illusion of her,
I lost what I knew of my mother.
I had to start over. This is that

story, my story of starting over.

Roxanne Swentzell, Tewa, 1962 –
Window to the Past, 2000
Bronze, artist proof
Collection of the artist, on loan to the Heard Museum

Just a reminder that the speaker in the poem is not always the poet…

Or as Paul Squires puts it: “By all accounts the libraries are ledgers neatly divided into profit and loss, fiction and factions and none but fools do claim to know the difference.”

In this case, the poem was inspired by a story I heard. When I put myself in the person’s shoes, I came up with this poem. In some ways, the poem came out of the blue, insistent that I write it down immediately, my son bleating the while that I make him breakfast. In other ways, this story had a deep impact on me, and when I saw these images for the Read Write Poem prompt, I think it stirred the pot, and the poem came out. I considered editing it into a sestina for another Read Write Poem prompt, since there is so much repetition of certain words, but decided I was happy with  simply using pentameter and five of the six sestina stanzas and one of the 3 lines traditional to the envoi. The missing parts of the story…

Thanks for the use of these photos goes to Deb of Read Write Poem.

You might also want to take a ride on the Poetry Train!

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2009 6:45 pm

    Sometimes, our roundabout mirrors (& mixed metaphors) face us with a clearer image– target?– thanks.

  2. January 29, 2009 6:45 pm


  3. January 29, 2009 8:12 pm

    I like the way that this unfolds…

  4. January 29, 2009 9:11 pm

    A poem about how memory tells only one part of a story. Very true words for many.

  5. January 29, 2009 11:17 pm

    Narrative poetry is the hardest to write, I always find. There are always compromises to be made between the story and the poetical expression but you have negotiated those compromises with great skill and the result is a careful and delicate poem.

  6. January 30, 2009 5:05 am

    Good stuff.

  7. January 30, 2009 6:44 pm

    Very thoughtful and well written. I loved: “…her marks on the days of her life.” And to think that even those marks were missing pieces. Such a good poem.

  8. January 31, 2009 1:15 am

    Beautiful tension. I love stories that start over at the end.

    I think your form suits the storied poem, too. Seems just right in tempo and repetition.

    I’m happy the photos moved you. I was mesmerized by the sculpture. If you’re in Phoenix, stop by The Heard. She’s in an interior sculpture garden.

  9. January 31, 2009 6:27 am

    There’s some theory of memory that we always fill in the blanks. There must be a reason for that.

  10. February 1, 2009 7:22 am

    Thank you, everyone, for coming by and reading and responding to this new poem!

  11. February 2, 2009 9:56 pm

    Interesting that you disclaimed ‘your’ truth in this. I would surely have known it was you and probably offered sympathy and tea. Your narration rings the truth and spells the story of many within a fine piece of work. I, too, know the sculpture… A fine post!

  12. February 3, 2009 1:45 pm

    This told a wonderful story, even if there was pain and sorrow about ‘starting her story over’. The statue’s face has so much expression…it’s no wonder that this story came to you after seeing it! Lovely read….thank you. :~)

  13. February 3, 2009 2:55 pm

    A thinking post. Thanks for posting it on MPTR! I will come back to read it again.

    dancing verses

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