About the poet
Born in Barbados, where she still resides, Esther Phillips graduated with an MFA in Creative...
My mother's touch was not tender.
Everything was fortissimo. She made no
gentle overtures, slipping with graceful ease
on to a polished stool; a cane-bottomed chair
held her full weight. Hers were not long,
tapering fingers, slightly curved to show
the artistic mind; her fingers were short and thick,
broken nails sheltering bits of earth.
I knew by the set of her jaw and the sad aura
around her, it was not just the piano
my mother played. A score was more like some-
thing she needed to settle – a mere slip
and a chord could betray her.
And the way she sang in her kind of larghetto:
“O my darling, O my darling Clementine,
Thou art lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry Clementine,”
her farewell to a girlhood gone too soon.
Now, husbanding her crop of children,
she wrested from a trap of horizontal spaces
what melody she could.
Years later in an unyielding season
and far away from home,
I listen for the slightly out-of-tune piano,
and see her as I did not then:
Seed-Mother, beginner of life, of Art,
out of the cumber she bore painter, dancer, poet.
Her sad songs lured us into feeling /for word, image, rhythm to shape our world.
from The Stone Gatherer (Peepal Tree, 2009), © Esther Phillips 2009, used by permission of the author and the publisher
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