Our Mothers, Our Selves: Writers and Poets Celebrating Motherhood

By J. B. Bernstein; Karen J. Donnelly | Go to book overview

Writing My Mother's Life

Elayne Clift

"I want you to have my typewriter," she said from her nursing home bed. Not "Take my typewriter." As in "Take my pictures. I won't need them anymore. Take my jewelry. Take my good coat."

This time she said, "I want you to have my typewriter." I heard the difference and it was deafening and this time, I took the typewriter.

Soon after, she said, "I want you to write the story." By the time she told me this, "the story" in her mind was about nurses poisoning her and conspiracies of cruelty and eviction. I promised to tell the story. Not that one, of course, but her real story.

I have known for a long time that I needed to tell the story of my mother. I have needed it so that I could reconcile her life, and in so doing, could begin to put an end to fear and great sadness. At first I thought I should have to gather many more facts. I would go in search of a great oral history, I thought, and in her roots and her childhood, I would discover my mother and would come to make sense of her life.

But in my mind, it was still one life, one story to be told. Now I know that that is why I could not begin. Because the telling of my mother's life is two stories, and the cruelty of that reality is that they can never be reconciled.

The first story is a fiction, and it contains the facts. It begins with a female child being born to Russian Jews in the year 1904 somewhere in Eastern Europe, and close to, but preceding the High Holy Days of Rosh Hoshana, so that her birthday was celebrated on August 25th each year. Her Hebrew name was Brona, but she chose to be called Reba as she grew up in small town, anglicized New Jersey where she had emigrated at the age of two. Her father, a tailor, was distant in the years of her growing up, but her mother, for whom she felt an almost painful love, was devoted. They were friends, which for my mother, was a great tragedy in the end. There

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Our Mothers, Our Selves: Writers and Poets Celebrating Motherhood
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgments v
  • Contents ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • Dedication xv
  • I -- Beyond Self 1
  • The Moment the Two Worlds Meet 3
  • From a Street in Bronzeville 4
  • How to Live 6
  • Miscarriage 14
  • With Child 16
  • Lines For One As Yet Unnamed 19
  • Fist First 20
  • The Bearing Woman 23
  • Infant Burial Room, Wupatki 28
  • Even after Death, I Will Not Forget how a Newborn Huffs and Puffs when Sitting Slumped Over 30
  • Not a Trace 33
  • Cambodia 35
  • Morning Song 39
  • Stumbling into Motherhood: A Few Words About Bonding & Mother-Women 40
  • Ironing 43
  • On the Inside 44
  • After Reading Mickey the Night Kitchen for the Third Time Before Bed 50
  • Crack in the World 51
  • What to Tell the Kids 55
  • But how? 57
  • Yes, It is Possible to Love a Child Who Doesn't Have Your Eyes 58
  • Motherless 60
  • Brothers and Sons 61
  • Loving Across State Lines 64
  • The Glass Half Empty 67
  • Awaiting the Arrival of the Witch 69
  • Ghost Child 72
  • Learning the Firebird Suite 74
  • That's My Girl 75
  • The Blessing 76
  • Cornucopia 79
  • II -- Beyond Reflection 81
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Excerpt) 83
  • Reasons. . . 87
  • The Woman Warrior 88
  • Nursing the Adopted Child: A Different Pace of Bonding 92
  • Sitting With My Mother and Father 96
  • Bending Over Roses at Twilight 98
  • Mercy Killing 99
  • Women and Other Mothers 100
  • Spring of '42 106
  • The Body Market 107
  • Foreword from The Measure of Our Success 109
  • Mother's Voice 112
  • Autumn Roses 113
  • Passing Away 115
  • Breast Fed 118
  • The Annuity 119
  • What She Left Me 122
  • Rubberband Dances 133
  • Shooters 135
  • Writing My Mother's Life 136
  • Feminism, Art, and My Mother Sylvia 140
  • Going Deeper into the Album 147
  • On Learning of the Death of My Great-Grandmother in Childbirth at Age 18 148
  • Making the Wine 151
  • Dead Baby Speaks 157
  • 50 Mothers of a Renowned Wolf 162
  • Beautiful Bellies 165
  • III -- Beyond the Whole 167
  • Mother and Daughter, A Dynamic Duo Indeed 169
  • Heat 174
  • Two Poems 177
  • The Scorpion Wore Pink Shoes 178
  • Mommy Wars 186
  • Real Enough 188
  • The Child Has Seen the Wind 190
  • Tito Fuentes, Topps #177, 1967 191
  • Life Ain't Never Settled 192
  • Conception 198
  • Giving Birth 199
  • Mother's Milk: A Dairy Tale 211
  • The Woman With the Wild-Grown Hair Keeps Her Vigil 213
  • Like Her Uterus Ripped Out 215
  • The Fault 219
  • Small Things 221
  • The Christmas Ritual 226
  • From 7 Folk Songs with Refrains 227
  • Black Bear Eating Salmon 229
  • Child Has No Say 231
  • After-Shock 233
  • Breast Feeding 237
  • The Last Wild Horses in Tennessee 238
  • The Envelope 240
  • About the Editors and Contributors 241
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