Poem of the week: Mother

A new work by Judith Mok

for Cliodhna Ní Ríordáin

When mother died
We opened the windows
To let her time freeze up in the cold air
Listening to the Brahms Requiem, I sang along
That all flesh is ash, ash in her coffin.
Inadequate machinery took it rattling down.
We heard a hollow sound in our silence
Driving through the polder,
The firmament had landed on the ground
Its stars frozen in the snow covered fields,
To enter a box of concrete where we stood waiting
For her flesh to turn to ash.
A child voiced our last question, where had Grandmother gone?

Then I stopped asking mother questions
I crossed the Andes
And saw a condor spread my scream
Sat shiva for you, mother
On a pier in Chile feeding the pelicans fish
And the Pacific with the pages of my unread book
Days of travel on a small bus
Listening to Mahler's 4th in my earphones
With that bus attendant, her wave of shining long hair
Like a perpetual dark flag in front of my dead eyes.
People handed me back my forgotten wallet with a smile
At the exotic market where I had gone to call mother
Because I was so far away from home
I couldn't remember
That her voice on the line was dumb with ash
I told her all the same
How I spotted a puma catching up with the speed of my life
That had been hers, mother's
And how I loved being her child.

Judith Mok was born in Bergen in the Netherlands and writes in English. She has published three novels and four books of poetry. She has been twice nominated for the Francis McManus short story award and received the Patrick Kavanagh Fellowship. Her memoir The State of Dark will be published next year.