Mother’s Day is just around the corner. In one of the happy serendipities of life, a book my son gave me for Christmas in 2012 caught my eye about a week ago. Its jacket flap marked how far I’d read in it—about halfway through. I decided to read on. It turns out That Said: New and Selected Poems by Jane Shore was the perfect book to get me in the mood for Mother’s Day!
Shore is a poet I’d never heard of. I don’t know why because she’s accessible and an interesting story teller—my kind of poet. Her poems are mostly autobiographical about her life in New York. Her parents had a dress shop. They were part of a lively Jewish community. The adult Shore has a child of her own.
She writes frankly about her own mother, with whom she had a perhaps typical daughter-mother hot-cold relationship.
“When my mother got into a bad mood,
brooding for days,
clamping her jaw shut, refusing to talk …
… I’d call her ‘Mrs. Hitler’ under my breath”
(“Mrs. Hitler” – p. 182.)
In her job, Shore’s mother was consumed with clothes. At thirteen, Jane lusted after the size three petites in her mother’s store. They would make her the best-dressed girl in school. But her mom would have none of it, coming home from Little Marcie’s Discount Clothes instead with an armful of clothes that had razored-out labels. Shore concludes:
“She was the queen;
I the heir.
It would have been a snap for her
to make me the best-dressed girl in school.
But for me she wanted better…
‘If I give you all these dresses now,
what will you want when you’re fifteen?’”
(“The Best Dressed Girl in School” pp. 188-191.)
Shore is a mother herself. In “The Bad Mother” she tells how she played with her daughter Emma, letting her be the Princess, the Mermaid and Cinderella while she was the vain stepmother, the fairy godmother, and the wicked witch.
“Once I played the heroine,
Now look what I’ve become.
I am the one who orders my starving child
out of my house and into the gloomy woods,
my resourceful child, who fills her pockets
with handfuls of crumbs or stones
and wanders into a witch’s candy cottage.”
(“The Bad Mother” pp. 159-161.)
Shore also writes about one of motherhood’s bitter experiences, losing a pregnancy.
These children’s faces printed on a milk carton–
a boy and a girl
smiling for their school photographs;
each head stuck atop a column
of vital statistics:
date of birth, height and weight, color
of eyes and hair.
On a carton of milk.
Half gallon, a quart.
Of what use is the body’s
container, the mother weeping milk or tears.
No amount of crying will hold it back
once it has begun its journey
as you bend all night over the toilet,
over a fresh bowl of water.
Coins of blood splattering the tile floor
as though a murder had been committed.
read the rest here…
After her mother died Shore grieved. She takes us with her in the poem “My Mother’s Mirror” where she talks about dividing up her mother’s things with her sister. She inherits her mother’s mirror.
“Now at fifty,
I stare into her mirror
glazed with our common face,
the face I’ll pass down to my daughter
who watches from behind me
with the same puzzled look I had
when I watched my mother
out of the corner of her eye
(“My Mother’s Mirror” pp. 208-210.)
For those of us who are noticing how our mother’s physical characteristics are now being bequeathed to us and our daughters, “My Mother’s Foot” will bring a chuckle of recognition:
“Putting on my socks I noticed,
on my right foot an ugly bunion and hammertoe.
How did my mother’s foot
become part of me? I thought I’d buried it
years ago with the rest of her body…”
(“My Mother’s Foot – pp. 238,239.)
That Said, New and Selected Poems (2012) is a collection that starts with the newest poems and then circles back to include poems from Shore’s previously published books dating as far back as 1977. This collection reminds me a bit of some verse novels. After reading these writings that span so many years, I feel like I know Shore, her mom and dad, her daughter and her Scrabble-playing family.
Stanley Plumly’s cover endorsement sums up this collection well: “Shore’s poem narratives have long been praised for their juxtapositions of wit and quiet wisdom. Yet her poems of these past three and a half decades also speak through a Talmudic knowledge as ancient as the archetype. Her work is deep because its small worlds become so whole, exacting, and exclusive.”
Thank you, Jane Shore, for validating many of my feelings about my own mother and reminding me of how mothering is a circle of nurturing and being nurtured. You have enriched this year’s Mother’s Day for me with the experience and insight of your writings.
Sorry but only one of the poems I quote snippets of is online. However, a collection of other poems from That Said are on THIS PAGE.
This post is part of Poetry Friday, where you’ll find lots more poetry and poetry-related stuff for kids and adults too. This week’s PF is deliciously hosted by Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup (who will enjoy Jane Shore’s mother’s recipe for “Shit Soup” (HERE, fifth poem down).