So many of us set out to do things differently from the ways our mothers did—only to end up realizing that so much of our behavior practically replicates what we remember. Hatsy McGraw reflects on this for us today. The sparseness of her form belies the intricacies of her insights.  She is a pleasure to present and to read. 

 

Polishing Silver

I.

Cleaning the silver
I think of a gesture
mother made
at the party.

Both hands
gathered around her
mouth, the corners
of her lips,

fingers splayed,
squeezing her
cheeks—
almost as soft

as grandmother’s
cheeks, faces
the same, creases
in the same places,

and grandmother
appeared
calling to me
from mother’s face.

II.

Ontogeny recapitulates
phylogeny, my English
teacher said,
not because Haeckel’s

theory is scientifically
true, but so we’d
see how
characters in books

provided a reflection,
so we weren’t
disappointed when,
in the story,

someone failed
to be different,
let us down by being
like us, not better.

III.

Appearing out of order
are mother as
grandmother,
grandmother as herself,

now deceased, and me
as I grow daily
like mother.
I am no better

and no worse.
What’s necessary
except to polish,
remove residue,

immerse each
piece of silver
in a warm bath,
and towel it dry with
the same yellowed cloth.

                                    Reprinted with the poet’s permission.

 

Hattie McGrawHatsy McGraw has published poems in several journals, including Bloodroot, Hanging Loose, The Salon, and Across Borders. Two of her poems appeared in the anthology Birchsong: Poetry Centered in Vermont. Her poem “Neighbors in the North End” won the Robert Penn Warren Prize for free verse in 2004. A graduate of Vermont College’s Writing for Children/ YA program, Hatsy lives with her husband, painter Tom McGraw, and their two cats in Hartland, Vermont.