My Mother’s Hands

lift the big enamel kettle
from the coolness of the fridge
and lay aside the blue plate
to skim ivory cream
from pale milk

flip a circle of pastry
over the Saskatoon pie
her fingers, held just so
deftly shape a pretty edge

stitch white fur on red velvet
a luxurious coat for the fancy dress
she’s made my doll
late hours on winter nights
a Christmas gift the year I was six

bathe babies, change sheets
fluff pillows, dispense cough syrup
peel potatoes, carrots, onions, apples
create thick beefy stews
hamburger, mashed potatoes, cream corn
casseroles, biscuits, breads, raisin cakes

scrub floors, polish windows
wash clothes, wipe tables
soothe cool pink lotion
on sunburns and mosquito bites,
slice apples onto saucers
for cinnamon-sweet tea parties

snip lacy cedar and blue sage
blend sandalwood, lavender,
and myriad fragrant mysteries
making her prairie potpourri
full of wild mint, orange peel, pine cones
and red clusters of mountain ash berries

my mother’s hand
holds the pen
that tells the daily details
of life on the farm

     the milk cow calved
the river is flooding
we need rain but the hay is down
we had a picnic in the valley Sunday
JR’s mother is visiting

each letter a bridge
from here to home
and a family far away

my mother’s hands
hold a grand-daughter’s dark head
her arms a circle of love
for her child’s child

knobbly, pale, speckled with age
so capable, worn and generous

in memory I hold these hands.

~ Cheryl King
The oldest in a farm family and raised near the Battle River at Wainwright, Cheryl King is familiar with canola fields, rolling hills, beaver dams, cow pastures, poplar trees, the smell of grain dust and the bawling of calves in late fall. For the past 16 years she has lived in Grande Prairie. A busy consultant and educator, she works too much, reads endlessly, wishes for more time to play with paper and paint, and is occasionally blessed by having a poem arrive in her head.

“My Mom’s letters are ‘home & away’ for me. When she married my dad and moved to Alberta from her home/family in Minnesota, every week – probably for 20+ years, she wrote a letter back to her mom and dad to telling them the updates of the family/farm life – wonderful chatty, detail filled letters. Then again, the year I taught in Australia, she wrote me and my daughter a letter every week. I still have these letters from the Australian year.”

Read more of Cheryl King’s poetry:
Grandpa Moves the Hay
it ain’t pretty

Editor’s note: This poem is from Home and Away – a sequel to the bestselling Writing the Land (2007). Look for one poet to be featured each day as Alberta poets ponder the question “what is home?” and explore our complex relationship with working on, living with, exploiting and protecting our land and our home. For more information about the project, click here.

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