by Christie Chisholm

by Christie Chisholm

When I was 18, before I knew anything about publishing or pitching or rejection or acceptance, I tried to get something published that didn’t belong to me, but, rather, belonged to my mother. Years earlier, when I was only 8, she had written a poem that had become famous in my family. She was a beautiful writer, and it was a beautiful poem. And though she had never tried to do anything with those words beyond hanging them in the foyer of our home, they were loved, perhaps especially by me because the poem was in part about me—about the two of us, really. Seeing it displayed so prominently in our home throughout my childhood made me feel a little famous, too. It of course made me feel loved.

I decided in the spring of 2001 that the most excellent Mother’s Day gift ever would be to get the poem published under her name, and so I submitted it to Poetry magazine—the only publication I knew of at the time that published poetry, and also one of the most iconic such periodicals in the world. It was like trying to pitch The New Yorker straight out of grammar school; I had no idea what I was doing. I mailed in the submission—as one still did in those days—and impatiently waited the prescribed six to eight weeks for a letter to arrive announcing the editors’ verdict. I eventually received a polite, and rather lyrical, letter of rejection. I had failed.

I can’t remember if I ever told my mom about my attempt, although I hope I did; the opinions of some stranger sitting in an office matter so much less than those of the people close to us. It’s a truth she certainly would have understood.

In the years since, the personal significance of that poem has only swelled. I read it during her eulogy. The frame that once hung in my childhood foyer now hangs in my bedroom; I look to it often throughout the day, meditating on the words, even if I do not take the time to read.

Mother’s Day is a difficult holiday once you have lost your mother; a season full of daggers. For the past six years, I have avoided it, resented it, buried my head in whatever sand I could find. But this year I don’t want to hide. I want to be loud. I want to use my voice, and the space I have, to lend breath to hers. 

It may be 18 years late, but Mama, this one’s for you.

My little one
We were one
You and I
Like two flames
Burning brightly in the night

Life started
Hard for you
The parting was
Hard for both
You and me
You were a flickering light
In a windy storm

So stay close to me
For a while
My little speck of light
I will shelter you from
This and every storm
And let your light grow
Until it can
Weather any storm

You will be grown
My little one
And no longer
This shelter
The parting will be hard
For me
And I will watch
Your flame grow
As mine

When I am just
A little speck of light
Flickering in the wind
Against the cold of night
Come share your bright light
With me
For a while
The parting will be hardest
But you will always remember
When we were flames in the wind
You and I

—Celia Chisholm, 1990