Tina Parker

Writing the Silence---The path of a poem, part 2

Date of Post: 
Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Many of my poems start with one of the women in my family, in the sense I carry these women with me and feel the need to tell their stories. My maternal grandmother in particular figures into much of my work. She was not a big talker--she left many things unsaid. My poetry is often an attempt to create a story from the silence she kept. Her silence figures heavily in the narrative poem "Unspoken" in my collection Mother May I.

Unspoken

The women sit side-by-side

on the porch. One small, folded

into herself, her white hair in wisps

about her head. She reaches

a hand out, her fingers crooked

at the joints, her movement in slow

time. Her face keeps its firm lines,

but her eyes flicker when her hand

rests on the younger one’s belly.

She feels life rolling there and recalls

                   

the ones she has lost.

She does not speak the names

to her granddaughter. How can she know

their lives have been so much the same?

They have both known the quickening

of the womb too soon, the blood that washes

out but does not cleanse.

 

You’ll enjoy this baby so much more being older.

She’ll be nothing but a blessing to you.

Her words tumble into the quiet space

and her hands fold back into her lap.

Both women sigh, their rockers creak

as they raise their heads to the darkening sky.

---first pubished in Appalachian Heritage

My writing is a way for me to navigate the tension between what is stated directly and what is left unsaid. When I get stuck on a poem draft, I have often picked up George Ella Lyon's She Let Herself Go. Her poems give me courage to give voice to the silences women in my family keep; they help me recall the sayings and dialect these women use. When I read her poems, I hear the voice of women in my family, and I feel the burden of what all they carried. Here's a bit of the poem "All" which G.E. Lyon wrote for her grandmother:

All
She bore her life
She took it all--
Those years she was a slip of a Memphis girl
Carrying her sheet music in a suede roll
Running off by train with a timber man
Setting up housekeeping in one scraped-out
Mountain town after another

Fifteen years pregnant or nursing
That slip grown thick
The way a tree wears its time
Her temper turned fierce
By the endlessness
Of mouths to feed
Bottoms to wipe
Clothes to wash and starch and sew
Cows to milk gardens to hoe. . .