May at 101
Too soon you left us.
Your tender love binding all together
gone in a moment of driver madness.
Mother, carer, advisor, confidante, best friend
who taught me love is better always
than hate, indifference, and envy.
What would you have done
once all our care had flown your nest?
What beauty would have flowed
from fingers onto proper canvas
carrying the coloured oils of your creativity?
Life was unkind to you, bringing early loss,
unbreathing infants, a loving husband
you encountered dying in
a spreading pool of his own blood,
as you bore an unborn babe that
three short weeks from his sad death
would develop into me.
You lost your home as well that day
but found a neighbour’s bed
to deliver me to life.
You trudged the streets with
my tiny sister toddling,
me an infant at your breast,
seeking a new home in a city crushed by war
and found a roof to keep us dry and warm.
You sacrificed creative freedom,
your undoubted skill and vison,
for a steady man to give us all
a place of warmth and comfort.
But I remember sitting at your feet
on a clifftop warm with grass,
your paintbrush making summer sky
across white hardboard
bearing living waves to wash
upon the sands I trod to school.
What dreams you portrayed for me,
what beauty, love, and wonder you unveiled.
It was you who gave me all the vision
I may now reveal.
You who taught me how to live
a life of love and questing wonder.
You who never had a chance to
show the world your skill and vision,
but showed the world your love,
your kindness, and your warmth.
Today you would have reached
the magic age of one year and one hundred
and every one would have been so fruitful.
But after forty four short years
you left us, and we will never know
the beauty you must have wrought
in this strange and varied world
once you were free to make it.
This poem is for May, who would have been 101 today. My mother died 2 days after my 16th birthday when the car driven by my stepdad was destroyed by a stranger who’d inexplicably decided to reverse his car down a hill obscured by a bridge. May was a gifted painter, whose opportunity to accept a scholarship to a famous school of art ended when her parent’s poverty denied her the required uniform.
She lost the love of her life, my natural father, three weeks before she gave birth to me. I never knew Ken, but she told me of her love for him and how proud he would’ve been to meet me.
We became a family of three when, at the age of five, my stepdad’s son, six weeks my elder, joined my elder sister and me. And expanded to a family of four when my talented brother was born when I was nine years old.
During her life, she held us together in times that were often hard. And when she went, the family disintegrated into sadness for a time. As a result, I joined the armed forces, an environment never meant to suit the spirit of an artist.
It was decades before I could remember her without the tears of loss. On the day of her burial, the streets from our small home to the church were lined with strangers to me who bowed their heads in loss. That, and a room in our house completely overwhelmed by floral tributes, explained to me how much May was loved. She is loved still, and remembered now with joy.