Looking for Mother’s Wisdom

Mother’s
Voice in my head
Forms the words in my mouth
Repeating wisdom to my child
Look before crossing streets
Don’t eat raw meat
Say please

This is an Eintou, an African-American poem of syllabic form. It is a septet (7 lines) with a syllable count of 2-4-6-8-6-4-2. The name Eintou is West African for pearl. This form of poetry tries to impart pearls of wisdom in heightened language in a cyclic form.

I still hear my mother’s voice echoing at times. She had several mantras. Some were repeated on a daily basis and others were only brought out on special occasions. In particular were the admonitions to wash your hands before eating, brush your teeth before AND after eating (you don’t eat off dirty plates), drink all your milk (there are starving children in China). You get the idea. Among the words spoken were those that were delivered during the moments of childhood crises. “You may be small physically but intellectually you are a giant.” These words have stuck with me. Spoken as I was sobbing because some neighborhood kids told me I was too short play basketball with them. “If everyone jumped off a cliff would you want to jump too? Think!” Despite my desire to be one of the group my mother insisted I use the common sense so many were lacking. Yes, she forbade me to participate in some activities that I desperately desired to be part of. In retrospect it probably kept me out of some serious trouble. “If God had wanted you to have holes in your ears He’d have put them there.” Was her standard response to pleas for pierced ears. When pressed beyond her limit she’d say, “Go get me a nail, the hammer and the bread board and I’ll pierce your ears.” I never took her up on her offer. Eventually I got pierced ears (and so did she many years later), but I was of an age that I was responsible for the after care! When we (my 2 sisters and I) were being difficult her standard response was not to belittle us but to lay that maternal curse on us, “I hope you have children just like you!” Anyway what I wanted to say is that her words somehow managed to sneak through my lips and into the heads of my children. I was very fortunate that my mother’s words were supportive, unlike some people who have hurtful and negative words rattling around their heads. I think that is how it works from generation to generation. Both the good and the bad.

21 thoughts on “Looking for Mother’s Wisdom

  1. This was such a beautifully written piece! ❤
    I simply love the idea behind it and the style!
    Looking forward to reading more from you!

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  2. Profound and meaningful! Every mother has their own “mantras”, and although as a teen I may rebel sometimes against them, I know that I will appreciate every piece of wisdom at the end of the day.

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    1. You will no doubt have the surprise of hearing your mother’s words issue from your lips. It happens when we least expect it and it does startle us. It is at that moment you realize you have crossed over from child to adult!

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  3. Words are important, especially those from a parent to a child. We heard the starving children bit, only for us it was the starving Armenians. I never could figure that one out. How did my finishing my string beans help children who were starving? I hated string beans……….still do. Green beans without strings are OK. Old fashioned string beans with strings? No way! ( Ha, I almost made a poem.)

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    1. Yep. I think I once asked if I could mail my unwanted portion to those hungry children – it didn’t result in exempting me from finishing my food. My nemesis was canned spinach. Popeye could have ALL of it!

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  4. My father told me that I come from a long line of female cussers, so when I’m driving, I can definitely hear my mother’s words come out of my mouth. No matter how much I resolve to clean up my language (that has become easier since retiring from teaching at the high school–the language in the halls is hideous) it is deeply rooted.

    PS> I love what your mother said about you being an intellectual giant–what wonderful words for a daughter just starting to build her confidence and make her place in the world.

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    1. Ha! I guess her legacy lives on – especially in rush hour traffic!! I always had support from my mother and father. For the longest time I thought everyone’s parents were like mine. It was a real shock when I realized that I lived a charmed life compared to many others.

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  5. Your mother is a very wise woman — and so are you to remember those mantras! I love the intellectual giant, and “think”! Clearly you heeded her mantras!

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    1. Yes she is brilliant! That line was a defining moment for me. Especially as I was just figuring out that I was leaps and bounds ahead of others in the classroom.

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  6. Yep! I did say a lot of those words… and even screamed once out of complete frustration…but loved you all a bushel and a peck!

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