Awe at the undeniable fact that I will forever be the son of a fiercely beautiful woman. Awe at knowing just how exquisitely she prepared me to live and write my way into this world. And yes, her absence hurts, but her presence – and I feel it more and more each day – her presence moves me forward. (Saeed Jones)
Every time Mother’s Day comes around, I always think of the poet Saeed Jones. His essay Infinite Ache: My First Mother’s Day Without Her comes to mind right away, after I read it for the first time a few years ago. Maybe it’s the way that Saeed wrote about his mother, or his grief, or the beauty of what she had imparted upon him, or the familiarity of nam-myoho-renge-kyo (the Nichiren Buddhist chant) but her being and his writing had left an indelible mark in my memory.
In his poem “Mercy” from Prelude to Bruise, he writes:
Her ghost slips into the room wearing nothing but the memory / of a song…
I’m also reminded of Ayana Mathis’s book The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, a book I read three years ago. After reading the book, I remember taking a nap and waking up thinking of Hattie, finding it impossible not to. The book unfolds with the lives of Hattie’s twelve tribes, or children, as I try to make sense of her hardness and her husband August’s softness. I remember Lafayette, steely and inaccessible, Franklin, whose narrative left me at odds with what I knew as the irrationality of war.
…Hattie wanted to give her babies names that weren’t already chiseled on a headstone in the family plots in Georgia, so she gave them names of promise and of hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones. (Ayana Mathis)
Recently, I read Tracy K. Smith’s memoir Ordinary Light wherein I was introduced to the incredibly intimate and tender relationship of a daughter with her mother. In a previous post about the memoir, I wrote about how Tracy’s writing opened up a new language for me, one I haven’t had the opportunity to create with my own mother.
I was calm and safe beside her, right at home. I didn’t think to call it beauty but beside her, I felt what the presence of beauty makes a person feel. (Tracy K. Smith)
I am grateful to these writers for their strength and their will to write their personal experiences and stories, no matter how harrowing or joyful, about mothers. My own relationship with my mama is a work in progress, a bond that I used to despise for a multitude of reasons when I was younger. As I get older though, I’m able to see her in a different light — who she is as a person, and who she was as a young mother then.
While the work of Saeed, Ayana and Tracy have touched something in me that is equal parts painful and healing, I am aware of my experience only as an immigrant daughter, kind of assimilated and openly queer. I revere Black motherhood, of which I have no direct experience but aware of the mottled heartbreak it comes with, in struggle and in relation to living in the U.S.
I cannot fully know and I cannot fathom the well of pain felt by the mothers of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Alex Nieto, Trayvon Martin, but I can surmise the depth of anger against institutions of state that have violently taken the lives of their sons.
What I do know is that it is the same institutions that have kept mother and child separate, an all too familiar scene at airports in the Philippines. The separation of the family is not an uncommon theme, as mothers leave their children in their home countries to care for children and families in the First World as recounted in this New Yorker article.
I think about struggles of mothers living abroad, the strength needed to withstand a foreign culture and the backbreaking work of minimum wage; the loneliness of an empty apartment after a day’s work buoyed by the promise of coming home one day; the daily misgivings of being undocumented, of being invisible and small in the face of the dollar; of the heartbreaking passage of time, of physical distance, of the increasing emotional distance, of being away.
Still, I see it — the smiles in spite of the callousness, joy in their eyes in spite of grief. I guess there will never be enough words, but always, an infinite ache.
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The featured image in this blog post, as well as the last two images are from Mamasday.org, a project of Forward Together, a multiracial organization for social change. Send a virtual Mama’s Day card using one of their beautiful creations!
Sunday Spotlight #MamasDay Ayana Mathis literature Mama's Day memoir Mother's Day mothers OFW ordinary light Overseas Filipino Worker Prelude to Bruise Saeed Jones Sunday Spotlight The Twelve Tribes of Hattie tracy k. smith
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.