National Writing Project

Mothers Know What We Need (a poem)

By: Bill Connolly
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2
Date: Spring 2003

Summary: A poem by Bill Connolly.


She, who had never written a poem—
or had she?
And was I sure
she had not read a poem since high school?
The futility of babbling into the phone
bothering my mother
about this small stack of rejection slips.
These poems that returned
in crumpled, self-addressed, stamped envelopes
were whispering in my ear
couplets I did not want to hear.
I was sagging under the sad, paternal acceptance
of these children sent home,
forced to confront my inferior legacy.

Why not talk about her grandchildren, her week, the weather?
I still wanted that hand on my shoulder, I guess.
The same one when I came home that August day
sat down in the green and white chair in our living room
and cried after being cut from the football team.
How I had needed the gasp of disbelief in her voice,
her wide, sympathetic eyes,
her hand on my shoulder
as I just sat there
my right hand visoring my face.
Her hand pronounced the injustice
her Oh, Bill endorsed the incredulity.
How could this be?
That's what I needed then
and needed now with the poems I was not crying over.

And so she listened
was silent a moment
slipped her hand through the phone line
and slapped me.
"Well," she said, "maybe you're not a good poet."
She soothed the sting with talk of the essays I had written,
the ones that had made her late for church,
her tears smearing her mascara
as she'd drop the newspaper on the kitchen table.

Still, her hand was on my shoulder
pushing me toward something I had not considered
something I would not have accepted when I was 15.
The gentle shove reminding me
that you don't always make it.

About the Author Bill Connolly is a co-director with the National Writing Project at Rowan University. He teaches English at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly, New Jersey.

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