~This poem previously appeared in The Cape Rock (2014).
How Is Mom Holding Up?
When they heard the news in December,
Mom did not cancel their summer cruise.
The doctor said three rounds this time, if all goes well.
Besides, they bought insurance.
She hasn’t canceled yoga, either. Tuesdays 9 a.m.
are blocked off from January to June
to breathe deeply in class,
not at the hospital in chemo spouse position.
With no surgery scheduled, no bedside duty,
Mom plans to keep tutoring Wednesdays, too.
She’s already flipping through catalogs,
choosing seeds for the spring garden
unplanted last year in the storm
of a darker diagnosis.
And when I asked why she was gazing
through a frosted bay window
with dreamy gray eyes,
she said she was picturing
Sunday walks at the lake
hand in hand. Each day
growing longer and longer
until twelve hours of sun
and dinner for two on the patio
consumed the fear
of one plate on the kitchen table
and a six o’clock sunset outside.
~This poem previously appeared in The Amistad (2008).
Upon Visiting the National Museum Of African Art
In this quiet space
filled with small glass houses,
visitors like me, walk with open mouths
amid iron masks and ivory figures
crafted by hands that also hunted for food.
Shelter, clothing, and a full belly—
it's never been enough—
not even for Cro-Magnon
who painted cave walls
and made bracelets from bone.
Humans like to make things,
just as a dog likes to dig, clawing the dirt
without knowing why.
I've often questioned my mind
when it becomes a migrating bird,
unable to turn back,
as a poem searches wildly
for a warm spot to build a nest.
I worry that I spend too much time,
puzzling over words on paper
while others dine and party.
Now I see my connection
to those who carved roosters
and decorated horns
after hunting in the bush
or toiling in the fields.
A poem, a pot, or a painting—
each starts with the same impulse
to birth an image from within
and watch it stand on its own,
blinking in the light.
THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
While these poems differ greatly in content, they are both essentially pep talks—little speeches to encourage myself. On the day I visited The National Museum of African Art, I was going through a period of self-doubt, wondering if I had been spinning my wheels as a writer. Why do I spend so many hours on odd projects that may never find readers? Should I make an effort to be more social? I am guilty of being a workaholic, someone who is reluctant to pull herself away from creative work to engage in the business of living. I was only at the museum that day at the suggestion of a good friend. But the exhibits comforted me, validating my need to create as primal, not peripheral to my existence. Capturing that epiphany in a poem eased my self-doubt, at least for the moment.
In “How is Mom Holding Up?” I was imagining a better scenario for a critically ill loved one. So it is also a pep talk, a moment of comforting myself. Poetry can provide an opportunity to talk not only to an audience, but to oneself, as we navigate the emotional challenges of life.
ABOUT JACQUELINE JULES
Jacqueline Jules is the author of three chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press), Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ Publications), and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String (Winner, Helen Kay Chapbook Prize 2016, Evening Street Press). Her work has appeared in over 100 publications. Visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com where you will see that she is also the author of 40 books for young readers including the Zapato Power series and Never Say a Mean Word Again.
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