My mother's touch was not tender. 
Everything was fortissimo. She made no 
gentle overtures, slipping with graceful ease 
on to a polished stool; a cane-bottomed chair 
held her full weight. Hers were not long, 
tapering fingers, slightly curved to show 

the artistic mind; her fingers were short and thick, 
broken nails sheltering bits of earth. 
I knew by the set of her jaw and the sad aura 
around her, it was not just the piano 
my mother played. A score was more like some-
thing she needed to settle – a mere slip 
and a chord could betray her. 

And the way she sang in her kind of larghetto
“O my darling, O my darling Clementine,
Thou art lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine,” 
her farewell to a girlhood gone too soon. 
Now, husbanding her crop of children, 
she wrested from a trap of horizontal spaces 
what melody she could. 

Years later in an unyielding season 
and far away from home, 
I listen for the slightly out-of-tune piano, 
and see her as I did not then: 
Seed-Mother, beginner of life, of Art, 
out of the cumber she bore painter, dancer, poet. 
Her sad songs lured us into feeling /for word, image, rhythm to shape our world.


from The Stone Gatherer (Peepal Tree, 2009), ? Esther Phillips 2009, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Esther Phillips in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.


Featured in the archive