|Tish and Chona Vallés, 1971 Buffalo NY|
For someone who has written for as long as I can remember, I have not been able to write a poem solely centered on my mother. The impossible task of reconstructing then reconstructing my mother became feasible one May evening when I confessed to my girl, Lynne Procope this simple truth. To which she rightly replied "well isn't that the perfect place to start? And of course it happened in Brooklyn, in a restaurant called Alice Arbor, at tea time like Alice - a tradition started when Mama first introduced me to Alice and her looking glass.
Tea Time Like Alice
Alice’s Arbor, Brooklyn July 2013
“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
‘I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”
― Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”
My mother does not have
soft hands, does not own an
apron. Does not temper her words.
Not made like that, we
are made of micro minis
and straight As. Hard working
hands and words clear as crystal.
My mother was not built to
obey, was not built to submit.
Questioning, always questioning.
Never feeding the answer. Never
coddling, always trusting.
“Look it up.” or “What do you think
it means?” or “How do you want
to resolve this?” She does not
have a green thumb, my mother.
Not the light of our home, she was
the fire. The weapon-wielding
shorty-short wearing warrior
who raged through a bus at
rush hour to confront the driver
who had cut-off our car and hold him
accountable for his almost
murder of her family.
My mother does not make
hot tsokolaté and pan de sal to
ease my pain. Not made
like that, we are made of tea
time like Alice and riddles without
answers. Rabbit holes leading to
rabbit holes. She did not hide things,
did not make things pretty. Wanted me
to see. Wanted me to know.
Took me to my own limits
so that I and I alone would say
how far was far enough.
Not made of modest things,
my mother was no brassieres
and the highest hemlines.
She showed me that the female
form was a celebration of
all things alive and beautiful.
She did not hide her skin,
never apologizing for who she
was. Brown woman in a weary
land the white man ravaged again
and again. She is no one else’s
possession but her own.
My mother is not made of obedient
parts. Never acquiescing, not
to the nuns or the priests in the
schools she went to. Not to the
negotiators who would talk down
to the Filipino teachers union.
Not to my Spanish father who would
have us and our raised fists safely home
during the Martial Law protests.
She was always subversive
and she did not even know it. How
could she, what with all that fight?
Not made of meek things, my mother
will not apologize for what
she knows, And oh she knows
things. Brilliant woman, teacher
of young minds and the teachers
who would follow in the service
of learning. “My kids.” She called them.
My mother was everybody’s mother.
Everybody’s teacher. She was never
mine, but oh how I hold her, as she holds me.
High as the moon, countless as the stars
at tea time, which is to say, always.