Poetry Sunday: ‘Mozart’s Mother’s Bones,’
by Robin Ekiss

[From the WVFC Poetry Archive. First Published May 8, 2016]

Mozart’s Mother’s Bones

Every shadow carries its own,
                  but is too dark to see it—
as in the nautilus,
                                each turn of light
         leads into darkness,

or the hall outside her bedroom
                  where we fought like children     
about the disposition
                                of her possessions,
         anger envelops love.

Recalcitrant as opals,
                  Mozart’s mother’s bones
are buried in the walls
                                of the Paris catacombs—
         hers lay starched in the sheets.

It was harder to make her love me
                  than to drive the stars
into the ocean. I remember
                                the wave-cuneiform
         of her hair,

ridged like sand above her shoulders,
                  and in the rain,
how she looked down
                                through the pavement—
         something to do

with shame and disengagement.
                  Love embraces anger,
somewhere other than where we’ve been—
                                light piercing the dark
         shade of remembrance.

Mozart’s Mother’s Bones are buried
                  in the walls
of the Paris catacombs. How else is there
                                to bury this
         white, desirable death?



First published in Virginia Quarterly Review and from pp. 11-12 of The Mansion of Happiness (University of Georgia Press, VQR Series, 11/1/09) by Robin Ekiss. Price: $16.95. ISBN: 978-0-8203-3408-0. Published with permission of the press. All rights reserved.  Order the book here.

Robin Ekiss is a former Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford, recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Award for emerging women writers, and author of the book, The Mansion of Happiness, winner of the 2010 Shenandoah/Glasgow Prize, and a finalist for the Balcones Poetry Prize, Northern California Book Awards, and Commonwealth Club’s California Book Awards. She’s received residencies from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Millay Colony for the Arts, MacDowell Colony, and Headlands Center for the Arts, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, POETRY, APR, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. She’s a contributing editor for ZYZZYVA, and on the advisory board of Litquake, the West Coast’s largest literary festival, as well as a freelance copywriter and avid baker. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, the poet Keith Ekiss, and their son. You can read more of her work at her website, robinekiss.com.



Poet’s Notes

I was listening to NPR in the car (something I do a lot) and heard a profile about the Paris catacombs. The journalist was mentioning some of the famous people (and their kin) interred there, calling out—strangely, I thought— that Mozart’s mother’s bones were buried there. It was a jarring notation, a historical aside for a woman who was one herself. It triggered something mortal in me, deep below the surface. Those words (Mozart’s Mother’s Bones) were a kind of transportive mantra for me; they took me to the bedside of my own mother in my mind, and raised associations about the complications of my relationships (both alive and dead) and the impossibility of burial of any kind. The body, love, anger, light and darkness: for me, writing the poem was a way to work through the daily exercise of living above ground, and begin to question the unknown life that’s literally buried beneath it all, under and around us everywhere.


Notes on “Mozart’s Mother’s Bones

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

I chose this poem for Mother’s Day in fulfillment of my quest for poems for Hallmark holidays that are not—Hallmark poems. This one is from Mansion of Happiness, a wonderful book that includes several poems to and about the poet’s mother, at times with an emphasis on her passion for miniatures. What drew me to this one was the wonderful resonance of the title. “Mozart” and “mother” are both trochees scanned as an accented followed by an unaccented syllable. The sense of falling imparted by these cascading stresses is stopped by the stress on “Bones.” The result is resonance, combined with rhyming words (Mozart and bones) and consonance (Mozart’s and Mother), charging the phrase in a way that reminds me of what Emily Dickinson said about groupings of words that, to her, “glowed.”

The structure of “Mozart’s Mother’s Bones” is interesting: quatrains that do not (on account of the way second and fourth lines are indented) look like quatrains. Those indentations, together with several truncated lines creating white space, impart an airiness that works against traditional “blocky” quatrain structure. They also de-emphasize stanza structure; that is, stanzas seem subsumed in the larger structure of the poem in a way that reminds me of a skeleton whose individual bones are distinct but clearly part of a greater whole.

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