“My Mother’s Soul” by Bill Brown

Bill Brown


My mother looked like a soul
waiting to be surprised. Whether
stirring soup or weeding a garden,
she was fishing for the unexpected,
like the morning at Reelfoot Lake
when her pole bent double,
and she swung a large water snake
swimming the air like a Chinese dragon.
She wouldn’t just cut the line
and throw away a perfectly good hook,
so I pinned the snake’s head,
threaded the barb from its lip,
and released it writhing
and scarred into cypress grass.

My mother wore a slight smile
that posed a question few people
wanted asked, especially the preacher
at Bible study, my sister on the phone,
or my brother sneaking in late
on Saturday night. A soul is what
she looked like until she died,
but forever is a concept I’ll leave
to holy men on street corners
holding signs of coming doom.

Give me something concrete,
my mother might have said,
like a snake pumping a fishing line,
or an old woman sailing her death bed
toward the Rapture, her faith strong,
her face like a soul, the morphine “O”
of her mouth dark enough to swallow stars.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006


Bill Brown: “Thirty years ago I started writing with my students to be a better teacher. Now in my fifties, I am more conscious of the fleeting nature of living. I can’t solve the great mysteries, but writing poetry helps me taste them, helps me honor a kind of humanness, what it means to live and die on the planet, this gift.”


This week’s guest on Rattlecast #69 is Jim Peterson! Click here to watch live …

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