Monday, January 12, 2015

Month of Poetry #12: River Son

Today I wanted to do a poem for all the mothers who didn't give birth to their children - foster mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers, mother-figures, mother-substitutes. I thought Pharoah's daughter, who saved baby Moses from an untimely death as part of the slaughter of male Israelite infants when she found him, hidden, in a basket in the river, was a lovely focus for this. (The story's in Exodus 2).

River Son

The river is cool in the tourmaline morning; I like to bathe, then,
Passing news idly with my women as we immerse our feet.

The great Nile!
Source of all life, benefactor of Egypt; faintly, you can hear, the sounds of the market
The ululating of the priests, the chants of the work gangs
I like to listen for the singing of the slave women, as they beat their cloths on the rocks -
Their songs are strange, but beautiful. Not that they sing much, in these times.
The silence of my father's decree sits heavily on them.

The river is always quiet where and when I come; my father's guards make sure of it
All sounds are muffled by the wide berth that caution bids all human creatures place
Between themselves and Pharoah's daughter. It is always quiet,
So what is this sound I hear; sharp, full of incensed vowels,
Like a starveling kit, abandoned by Bast?

Pull the rushes apart, then, hurry up,
Something is in trouble, in the river -

Madam, it is a babe, she says, her voice doubtful
As if there could be doubt! Look at him, now -
(Yes, it's he. My maidservant changed a soiled breechcloth without delay)
He's a fine loud lad, isn't he. What glorious eyes
What lamb-soft skin on the full cheeks I stroke now with my smallest finger
Hush now, dearest, do not cry now; I shall not let you come to harm

A Hebrew baby? Yes, I suppose he must be. Yes, hidden,
Well, and what's the mystery there. I understand it too well
My father is not turned from his course, once he has decided it
(Or his oily priests have decided it for him, as too often happens).

Don't be ridiculous, girl. Of course we are not going to call the guards!
Or, yes, wait - yes, we will, because they need to be told that this son of mine
This my bullrush son, pulled from the waters,
He is not to be harmed. Not he, nor the woman who gives him suck, nor her family

I cannot save them all. I'm not even sure if I should
This babe though - he I will lift up, I will embrace
This son is my son, none will wrest him from me
I will rear him in the house of Pharoah and he will be a prince
He will drive chariots and call the sun home and be great

One day, he may turn his heel away from Egypt, remembering dead cousins
He may leave me when I am old, kohl smeared on my face in the palace of Pharoah
He may flame against the many cruelties wrought by my father the King
He may forget me, or he may hate me, princess of the royal house that I am

He may. But he is my son. I say it, I, Pharoah's daughter
My son will be mine, and I will be his mother
No one will harm him, because I say they will not
My son that I pulled from the water
My lovely, doe-eyed baby son.

- Kathy, 12/1/15

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