What’s a mother to do
with a son as precocious as this
what’s a freed slave woman to do
but smile at a son who poured out words
in stories on paper in print
what’s a mother to do
but swell with a bit of maternal pride
her son a leader of literary men
what’s a mother to think
her son out traveling the world
introduced to presidents and kings
while Jim Crow churns old hatreds
what’s a mother to do but hope
that after the searing civil war
her country will come to embrace her Paul
and all of his brothers and sisters
what’s an old black woman to do
but wake in the night terrified
as footsteps and fires still hammer and cleave
the fate of his brothers and sisters
Matilda Jane Dunbar was the mother of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906).
Born in Dayton, Ohio, and schoolmate and friend of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Paul Laurence Dunbar was one the first influential black poets in American literature.
© Frank Kearns 2015
Mortality and Canned Peas
It may sound heartless when I say
that my first memory of death
is tied to the taste and texture
of green peas from a can
When I first recalled all this
I was sure that these disparate thoughts
had accidentally bumped together
in pre-dawn mind meander time
so I circled back
around my first remembered home
first memory of mother sitting
on the low back stoop in summertime
then on to Maine and my first schools
box after box of feelings to sort through
or more like stacks of wrinkled paper
to be examined each in turn
and here it was the classmate
disappeared from school one day
my parents told me
as supper sat untouched on plates
told me heaven makes this all OK
and so began digestion of
life and tuna casserole
and soggy tasting green peas from a can
My Father’s House
The house of my memory
is a semi-rural farm house
with musty smells of
old wall paper and indoor plants.
sitting at the dining room table
in pajamas and bathrobe
cigarettes and coffee
AM talk radio
at the agonies of the traffic report.
The house of my dream
is a different house
on a narrow fishing-town street
before great grandmother’s knick-knacks became
a part of frozen memory.
You are a boy
entering the magic door
winding up the attic staircase
the wood a lighter brown with hints of red
the steps twisting and so narrow.
The photograph is yellowed.
You are so delicate in your uniform
your China Burma India Theater patch
jumping out from small shoulders.
Your eyes are feeling something,
seeing something beyond you and me.
In the attic
rubber band model planes
delicate balsa stringers
with tissue paper skin
light as the still air.
And a homemade short wave radio set.
You hear the news
open that high peak window
and shout to the neighborhood
Pearl Harbor has been attacked!