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.

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