To Isabel Cecily Dowling
The Inexhaustible Stream
I often heard you say You would like to have been a nun That all you wanted was peace and harmony in the home And that one day I would understand ...
Now that the tides of so many seasons
Have washed away the obstacles
Deposited as duty between us,
Now that the fog of unfamiliarity has cleared
Letting me gaze
Undistracted by clutter
At the unsullied line of your life,
These sounds sustain me
How many darkened mornings I found you filling bottles Testing them on your wrist Before letting me feed The latest life you had borne. Those moments are mine Rare and sacred times I had you to myself. In tabernacles of silence they are enshrined and there – with the light of yet more seasons – I understand why you said You would like to have been a nun That all you wanted was peace and harmony in the home And that one day I would understand.
Nothing was made easy for you.
Service was expected and
From girlhood to womanhood
You were groomed to give.
Yet, as each new life appeared
From the inexhaustible stream of your womb,
They didn’t put your photo in the paper
marvelling at the miracle of motherhood
they didn’t dress you up in robes
(or anything much come to that)
performing pageants in your honour
dubbing you brave or great
acknowledging your undeniable ability
No I witnessed nothing of the sort
They simply said you were a saint.
Yet your sacrifices were not the stuff of hymns Psalms did not intone your Daily sustaining of so many lives And the only medals pinned on you Were of virgin martyrs Or men – who had sinner so successfully – Their very repentance reaped centuries of applause. Recognition is reserved – it seems- for sinners The doers of evil are endlessly exalted While pomp is poured on the already pumped up Who sit so sated with long purloined power They have somehow forgotten (despite the best schooling) The source of their strength The place where their pronouncements rose. Indeed so weighty do their words become They easily forget the ones who gave them suck Who picked them up when they dropped Delivering them to schools, universities, railway stations Ironing their robes Laundering their liberty And generally carrying them from conception to courtroom Expecting nothing al all Certainly not a reward. Seeing themselves so spot lit They believe they are self sufficient Their deeds are recorded Their words regurgitated And their bones systematically and scrupulously numbered.
No - so - yours
From the unpolluted file of my memory
I know no band played
Each time you cut umpteen lunches
Asking did we want marmite, vegemite
Peanut butter or jam
No lines were written in the record
Each time you served rounds of toast
Filled pots with potatoes or cabbage.
Posterity had no wish to know
How you kept the tins filled
Put the order in, washed up and vacuumed,
and always – absolutely always -
Prepared a pudding
Something even the judges may have understood
Had you let it slip.
I am yet to unearth the epic
Telling how you drove to daily mass
Upholding their faith
Or tramped into town – hold-all in hand –
To fill stockings to the brim
For which Father Christmas got the praise.
Yet without all this unsung service
Judges would collapse on benches
Priest dissolve in pulpits
Indeed the pompous of every sort
Would look with terror on their nakedness
And the lilies of the fields
They have so long urged us to emulate
But I doubt it
Creation knows no malice.
Instead, unsustained by your sainthood
Canons will forget to fire
Armies simply tire
While cathedrals, towers and monuments will crumble
No longer propped up by
audiences congregations communities
When history is buried in its own rampaging waste When lives are no longer squandered Creating order from chaos I will never hear you say you would like to have been a nun That all you wanted was peace and harmony in the home Because you were right Somehow you knew One day I would understand.