Mother Knot – Reaching

Seashell cup and saucer

My eyes are new. I am eight years old and I have been sick with the measles for two weeks, limp and senseless with fever, without benefit of the new vaccine which has just been invented this year, 1962. Later I will learn that the doctor has been to the house twice and that I might have died.

“You are awake!” My mother is wiping tears from her eyes, but her smile is bright and sudden as a flashbulb. She sets a tray on my lap and sits down beside me. She has brought my favorite breakfast, peanut butter toast with honey. Next to it is a tiny bouquet of forsythia and periwinkle, ablaze in a beam of buttery sunlight. 

Am I dreaming? I am never allowed to have food in bed. 

I have missed the third-grade class picture. My younger sister, who at any other time would be bouncing in the bunk above me, has gone to school already, so I have my mother all to myself. 

Everything I look at is alive with color and shimmer. Mom closes the curtain a little so the sun is not so blinding, and now I see that the flowers are held in a porcelain cup, glazed white and palest blue, with a delicate handle. It is curiously shaped with ridges around the rim to look like surging ocean waves, tipped with gleaming gold, and sits on a saucer fashioned like a scallop shell. 

It is the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.

“It’s the only thing I have of my real mother’s.” Mom’s voice is sad. Perhaps she wishes I would ask her what she means. 

But her words fade while my words rush in, filling my mind. The flush of fever has turned to a brave glow of inspiration. I am on fire to write a poem, a first yearning to catch and keep beauty close, and I form my letters carefully with pencil on paper.

That morning, my mother gives me a shining cup of memory. And I, in my heedless childhood, take it from her hand, before she pulls the curtain closed again, over the shadow of her birth and the mystery of her mother. 

But the past has reached for me.

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© Cari Ferraro 2022

An excerpt from the memoir part of my book, Mother Knot, one of many beginnings from a book that has had many titles, and many beginnings. I have included a photo for you of this memento which sparked my first poem and opened a portal from which I am still drawing sustenance.