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My Daughter Nina
As a youngster I gazed up at my mother
And she sighed, tucked back a lock of hair
With her blonde hair trailing in the breeze,
And her smile a vision of harmony.
As a teenager I screamed into that gentle face,
I shouted and stamped and slammed
In my youthful disgrace.
Mother didn’t ever shout
And she didn’t ever scream,
But she turned to me
and she said:
‘Have I taught you to be like this?’
And I shook my head and said I had gone amiss.
Two paths split, two humans divided
One by love, the other by despair.
When I was a young woman
My mother and I sat stitching pink and blue patterns,
As we laughed with our matching sunshine hair,
And smiled, with our twin dimpled smile.
We bent together as two doves;
One young, one young at heart.
At forty I became a little worn,
The dresses didn’t fit as tightly as before,
And my mother, then sixty-five
Turned to me with a smile,
‘You are still that wild two-year-old
Who zig-zagged amongst the strawberry fields;
You are still that bright angel
Who sang the part of Gabriel
In that long-forgotten school play:
You are still the glittering fireball in my dreary, depressing day.
The nine-year-old who proudly displayed
Her fizzing rocket project:
How it soared into the stars of your imagination,
and I wanted to soar with it,
to the moon
and back in time for tea.
You are still the silly twelve-year-old
Who told me you thought your precious Hogwarts letter was lost in the post.
You are still the crying fifteen-year-old
Who sobbed you would never forgive me
For cancelling her coveted concert trip
In another city.
You are still the sweet seventeen-year-old
Who, beaming, presented her straight-A grades;
You are that grinning girl,
She lives on in your eyes.
You are the fierce young woman
Who marched the streets of your University backyard,
And threatened to tear down the statue
Of that monument that so offended you.
You are the woman who strode so independently,
When she gifted your laminated graduate certificate
And you smiled with your expensive lipstick, and your tied-back hair:
Adorned in your long, trailing gown
As you took your place in the final bow.
You are the person who danced, toes touched with flame and fire
On the stage production of ‘Cinderella!’
And the pink-cheeked dancer who laughed as red roses landed at her feet.
You are the star who opened Broadway,
And the kind stranger who afterwards helped a cold man
Through the rain,
And varnished his pain
With a glimpse of that warm fire, that light you always had.
You are the daughter who upped sticks to the fairy lights of New York,
The buzz and the frenzy and the black city sky
Captured on your phone for my delight.
You are the woman who stood noble in the face of vicious reviews,
And nestled that seed of hope, of goodness
In your young heart.
You are the symbol of decades of struggle, of misery and pain
And dreams and hopes and triumph.
You are the vision of the future
Of your own choosing:
You are the piece of your girlhood,
Your theatrical teenage years, your young adulthood;
You are the image of all these things that have come to pass
and you are Nina; you are always Nina.
Dry your old tears,
For I have seen them a hundred times before,
And it cannot be as sore,
as all those times before.’
I stared up at my mother, who remained a woman of stature
Bursting with wisdom and advice and love
and still kneading the pain, the self-hate.
Some years later I stood an old woman
By her final bed,
While her eyelashes fluttered, so her eyes flashed up in her head.
Bent by her, her daughter,
I kissed her hand,
And held those old tears in.
The time had now come
For me to soothe her fears.
Ill, she took it like a trooper:
But I could trace the child-like terror in her vivid azure eyes;
The only unwrinkled feature
That blazed on both our faces.
She passed as the white lilies were cut from spring leaves,
In the new year of her end.
Alone now, I gazed into the aging mirror
Touched the cracked lines with wonder
And grinned, for I alone knew I was Nina:
The same stranger of the past,
the sum of my decades’ work;
And let the trumpets boom on at the mast
For my mother.