Remembering My Mother: “Poems And Photographs Not Needed.”

11 May

Some people will remember my mother as a young beautiful woman with a jaw line suggesting determination and more than a little resistance to rules. They might remember her Sexy Eyes Downcast–a refusal to look at the camera. Introspection.
mom so young

Many will remember her as a passionate reader and teacher. (All the while looking like Lena Horne.)
mom reading to me

I am afraid that not many will remember Audrey Dohmeyer Wasson Curley as a poet. That’s because she almost never talked about writing, publishing, her craft. I thought of her craft as the cigarette smoke after dinner, and the tap tap tap I heard on the typewriter late at night. If I couldn’t sleep (often) I’d come down and she’d make me a tuna sandwich and ask what was worrying me. Her being at the dining room table typing, crumpled paper at her feet, the scratchings on pages she’d placed on the kitchen counter–these things were just part of our life together. Mom and Kir on Pennsylvania Ave.

mom poem

Fifteen years ago she died unexpectedly. I was on a plane coming to see her because she’d not been feeling well, but Mom was hardly seriously ill–as far as we knew. She’d collapsed in her kitchen and then, barely conscious, called an ambulance. Emergency room for one night and then they let her out; she called a cab to get home. Something wrong with her heart. By then I was on my way. She died at home-hours before I got there.

When I decided to change my life a year and a half ago, one of the few things I threw into the Prius was a folder of Audrey’s poems that I’d found while packing up. I didn’t really know what the folder was. I mean, I’d read some of her poems, and knew she’d published a little bit… But last week I looked more closely. I never knew she had a poem published in Art Journal.

Mom's published poem
And the folder was jam-packed full of poems, one onion skin sheet after another. One about the marriage to my dad, and the cat “Fatty” that survived that relationship:
“Lean, tough and nasty. How we respected her violence,/learned ornithology and swooped in/to save her victims/And by the time we killed/the marriage she was slow, striking/out from a secret place under the table/ to rake any thighs available…”

Poems about her romantic life after my dad–one about being on a picnic with a new lover (Dan,who would become my stepfather):
“As I scuttle for shelter/from irony in the scrubby grove,/history that wets the world/and fear of love/he shows me a place/stripped dry enough for hunger,/ wonder sharp as a new small stone.”
Mom and Dan
Poems about art, teaching, birdwatching. One of her later poems is about the grandson with whom she fell in love, entitled, “Noah Daniel, First Birthday”:
“Our dearest men/are ageless. Look at you, Noah….Your pose prefigures,/(time runs both its ways)/Dan’s restive stance/face reflective in the mirror…”
Noah was six when she died. The last line of this poem is:
“I see you, Noah,/not so many birthdays hence/hand on jutted teenaged hip/checking out the water/looking to step in.”

Noah looks a lot like Audrey.
Noah older headshot better version

I knew Audrey was an amazing mother, teacher, single woman (in 1969? Not Easy), and someone who wrote poetry. I just didn’t realize that she was a serious artist. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t either. That wasn’t her style.

So, as they say: IN CONCLUSION. My mom ended a poem called “Aesthetics” with this:

“The Earth itself remembers./Poems and photographs/will not be needed as monuments/to moments we have been.”
Poems and photos not needed? I am so grateful for both her photos and poems.

I haven’t quoted lines from the poems that my mom wrote about me. I can hear her: “Oh God no, Kir! For a mother’s day piece? Hideously tacky.” Audrey still guides me. Away from self-indulgence.

But please allow me to quote a few lines from one of the many poems I’ve written about her:

(I had a dream while selling my Ithaca house; Audrey appeared, wanted to take a walk. She was annoyed that I was aging.)

“My tall mother, dead and impatient in turtleneck
and short skirt, hiking the marsh while I try to sell
an old house. She’s speaking of melting, the ground soft:
‘Almost everything takes forever, you know.’ Then
she spots a green shoot, a white bud: ‘A snowdrop. Look.'”

As I know her, Audrey is on the look out. She’s got her eye on art, birds, the word, and love.
She’s “checking out the water/looking to step in.”

mom in seattle
Here: a month before she died.
Happy Mother’s Day, Dear Reader. In some way or other-Honor your mom!

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24 Responses to “Remembering My Mother: “Poems And Photographs Not Needed.””

  1. Ageless man May 11, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    tearz

    Like

  2. elainemansfield May 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    I love her lines from “Fatty” and your lines about your mom. Glad you saved those poems. My mother saved every letter I sent from college. She was in Germany, France, and Okinawa teaching Air Force dependents. My letters to her dripped with resentment and longing. She wrote about visiting the Louvre. I wanted hugs. She wanted culture. Now I understand her widowed determination to create a new life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 May 12, 2014 at 2:37 am #

      This would be a really interesting essay, Elaine–the letters between you, the very different perspectives. I would love to read it. And thank you for reading my tribute to Audrey.

      Like

  3. Audrey F May 11, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Beautiful and touching, Kirsten. Two strong women and artists, both mother and daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. maw14747 May 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

    The photos and the poems are, it is true, not the whole story–but you and she make them sing with life and sear with pain. I am glad that you had Audrey as a mother and that you have your wonderful son. Here’s to the daughters who become like their mothers in the best way and who know how to honor them, as you do here. Love and Happy Mother’s Day to you (and my own mom) from the babysitter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 May 12, 2014 at 2:40 am #

      You knew Audrey (and me) in a special way. That sustains me; thank you babysitter.

      And singing with life and searing with pain–that’s my aim.

      The wonderful son, yeah. I wish she could see him now. She probably does.

      Like

  5. Mary Holland May 12, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    Thanks for writing this, Kirsten. It makes me think, once again, how sad I am that I never met Audrey, and, again, what amazingly different moms we had. How special to have those poems of hers to help you remember what an extraordinary woman she was. Makes perfect sense that she raised another extraordinary woman, though even that is amazing, since it doesn’t always work that way, does it? I hope you are having a wonderful Mother’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 May 12, 2014 at 2:42 am #

      Well, Audrey lives in Noah, and me, and you know us so well; in a sense you have met her. So glad that I have a sister like you.

      Like

  6. Joanna Folino May 12, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    So it appears you acquired your gift for language from your mom, is that correct? You are a wonderful writer. It is always a pleasure to experience the depth of your ideas and feelings. I so enjoyed this yesterday that I posted it on my Facebook page to extend the range of your audience. It really helped me to read of someone whose mother had as much an impact on them regarding the craft as my own did. Mine was not as sophisticated as yours but I think the impulse in each of them was from their beautiful artistic souls. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nick May 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    a very juicy piece of writing, Ms K…I will go back at least once more to enjoy all the lines I tasted in too much of a hurry to get on with the chores of the day. I will taste and savor and sip and enjoy the warmth of food that is not only beautiful to look and glance but to return and quietly slice off the lean comida and sip the dark vino prepared as an oblacion to your vistoso madre.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. robinbot May 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    This was such a beautiful tribute to your mother, Kirsten. It’s amazing and scary how many gifts we get from our mothers. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. David Wilk May 17, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Parveen Talpur May 29, 2014 at 1:23 am #

    She was such an amazing woman, now I know that she too wrote poems and that makes me admire her even more. Kirsten I remember your poem “hands” it spoke so much of your love for Audrey but this article .is even more than a poem a great tribute to a mother.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 May 29, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      Thank you, Parveen. As you know, she admired you as much as you admired her!

      Like

  11. Alberto Maria Segre June 11, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    I was one of your mom’s students at UHS, many many years ago. Your essay does her justice; she really was a wonderful teacher who brought a lot of passion to her work. Those of us who were fortunate to have her in the classroom remember her well. Best wishes

    Like

  12. Lynn McElfresh July 11, 2014 at 2:05 pm #

    Kirsten, I graduated from UHS in 1974. Have very few memories of high school or my teachers. Your mother was one of two teachers I remember fondly from UHS. (The other was Frau Withrow, my German teacher.) I loved your mother’s class. I majored in English and have published hundreds of articles and 7 novels.

    Our 40th class reunion is coming up and someone posted on the Class of 74 Urbana High School facebook page, a picture from the yearbook of the Women’s Liberation Collective. Your mother was the faculty sponsor. Seeing her face, brought back a flood of memories. I was hoping to find her online, but found you instead. I love your essays. Especially Articles May Shift in Flight.

    Like

    • kwasson2012 July 11, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Lynn, How wonderful to hear from you! My mother loved the young women in the Collective. You sound terrifically successful–one of UHS’s stars! Kudos!
      Thank you so much for writing to me,(and for your kind comments about my work).

      Like

  13. mcc January 10, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

    Kirsten — I don’t know how I stumbled across your writings today, having been idly navigating the internet as one so often does, following links here and there without real purpose. Your mother was my high school English teacher (as was Sherry). Mrs. Wasson, as I knew her, was intimidating, inspiring, terrifying (because of her blunt critiques of my writing), and an incredible life force. I remember her black turtlenecks and a short, camel skirt (suede, I think), high-heeled boots, and the red Gremlin. Lena Horne’s bouffant hair and long eyelashes. Your mother told us one day in class that we’d never had a lover if he (or she, but mostly she meant he), hadn’t washed our hair. I also heard her ask the question you wrote about in your piece in Ascent, “Do you think that boy is worth your sleeping with him?”

    Your mother was the same age as mine and they knew each other slightly from university doings (my father was a professor) and school events (I have a brother who was the same age as you and in many of your classes). My mother died two years after yours, both of them far too young. Thank you for writing so beautifully of your mother that I can see her and hear her voice. It brings back a time and place that exists only in bittersweet memory now.

    Marcia Caton Campbell

    Like

  14. robinbot January 13, 2016 at 9:40 pm #

    So great to hear from you again, Kirsten. And such a beautiful tribute to your mother. Funny how words and writing get passed down from mother to daughter. Sorry she passed so young. Keep warm and happy out west. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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