If I knew then …

By Madge Kaplan

PROMPT — I will not rest until ...

1


We couldn’t stop smiling when we were both, finally, on that train. A few minutes earlier we’d been frantically searching for one another. I had circled every inch of Boston South Station, confusion giving way to worry and then, sheer panic. “What could have happened to her?” When I finally found my 86-year-old mother, she was ‘standing by’ at the information desk as my name was announced over the public address system. Relief gave way to annoyance. “Where have you been?” “You said to wait for you by the bookstore kiosk!” “I never said bookstore, I said the newsstand.” My mother, a lawyer, knows how to argue: “I’m sure you said the bookstore!” I shake my head, but we have five minutes before the train leaves for Penn Station. “Follow me, Mom. We have to hurry!”


I grab both roll bags, wind through the crowd out the double doors, flash tickets, and speed alongside the Acela to locate our car. I look back at my mom heading towards me. “This is too hard,” she mouths, fighting back tears. But she hasn’t stopped. I yell, “Hey, we’re headed to New York City. To a writing workshop! It’s going to be great. You’re doing fine. Just a few more steps.”


2


The woman at the typewriter, lost in thought, doesn’t know (or doesn’t care) that setting herself up in the front yard to write poetry, isn’t the usual reason people move to the suburbs.


Is it nature that inspires you? Your gardens, the newly planted maple, a distant forest, or maybe a meadow?


Do you write about strangers or people you know?


What sounds penetrate? Do you hear your youngest daughter leap out the front door, letting the screen door slam like she’s not supposed to?


She runs a few circles around you until you finally look up.


“I won’t be long,” you say. “I just need to get through a few more paragraphs.”


“Paragraphs, paragraphs, paragraphs,” the young girl repeats as she darts away. She likes three-syllable words.


In the back yard, she finds her hula hoops. She launches five of them around her waist with a circular motion, quickly adding:


“Who’s your mother, who’s your mother. Where’s your daughter, where’s your daughter. What’s for supper, what’s for supper.


Then, double, triple time. “What’s the weather, what’s the weather. Slip on a feather, slip on a feather.”


She stops abruptly, slips out of the hula hoops, and one by one with a flick of her wrist, sends each down the backyard hill, spinning and upright. Impressed, she’s about to look for more hula hoops when an annoyed neighbor from the street below yells up to her:


“Hey, don’t do that anymore and come down here and get these things out of my yard. Is your mother home?”


3


Dear Mom,


I’ve signed up for a poetry workshop this summer, but not without a tinge of guilt. You’re the poet, not me, and I wasn’t always so nice about it. When I was growing up, having a mother who spent hours each day writing poetry was not exactly typical.


And, to what end? You’d gather up a batch of poems and send them off in the mail in a big manila envelope. When the envelopes came back, as they always did, you were philosophical about the rejections. “It’s hard to get published,” you’d say; I felt humiliated for you and wanted you to stop.


But then, in my 20s, I started to read poetry and got curious about your poems. You found astonishing beauty and hope in newly planted trees and told stories about growing up in the Bronx with your sister, the two of you always on roller-skates! In the 1960s you wrote about the civil rights movement, Native Americans, and apartheid in South Africa.


Among hundreds and hundreds of poems, there’s one about me, at the age of three. I’m on a swing soaring up and down. Here’s how the poem ends:


“I’m content if years from now, when woman’s thoughts command your brow, the strength that swung you down through years has graced your world with love, not tears.”

 

Throughout careers in teaching, broadcast journalism and communications, Madge Kaplan has written memoir vignettes, essays, poems, and short plays. Many of her pieces have hit the airwaves, appeared in online publications, and been performed. Writing prompts often surface memories and the first brush with topics worth developing further. One of those topics is mental health, about which Madge says she's not alone in wanting to bring greater visibility, humanity, understanding, and solidarity. Madge writes from Cambridge, MA.