Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Honesty, Intellectual Honesty, Justice, Kindness, Life, Poetry, Self-determination, Values

A Flock of Sparrows for Majel: “She was the Strongest Woman I have Ever Known”

A Flock of Sparrows for Majel
This poem was written to celebrate Women’s History Month, March 2019.

(About a 4 minute read)

Sometimes people speak truth,
Just like truth was part of them.

Perhaps, sometimes truth is
Part of them.

Sometimes people speak the truth even at funerals,
Even when speaking of the dead.
Sometimes their praise doesn’t fly too high.
Sometimes it seems about right.

Maryanne never pulled a punch in her life.
She came over at the funeral. Hung with me a bit.
“She was hard, your mom. At first I thought, ‘a bitch’.
But then I saw how she kept up the apartments,
Made sure the yards were clean of trash and shit.
Got the furnaces fixed right fast before the cold seeped in.
Was always painting things a summer before they chipped.

“I come to see how her laws were fair and good.

“The apartments ain’t as nice as they was, now.”

Maryanne paused a bit, maybe a little bit too long.
But just before everything went to hell and blurs,
She slapped my knee hard. Too hard, of course.
But I was grateful that day for it being too hard.
Then her voice slowly carved each word she spoke in stone:
“She was the strongest woman I have ever known.”

A shorter pause this time, thank god:
“I hope you’ll remember that, Leila Mae’s son.
I gotta get home now. Fifty-two years married
And the old fool still can’t fix his own supper.
Can’t teach a man anything, ‘less you start ’em young.”
Blunt and to the point as ever, Maryanne.

Later, Greg said the same, but in his much gentler voice:
“Strongest person ever was.” And Wayne agreed with him.
But me, I fought back final judgement as a son.
That’s what she had taught must be done
When you know you are biased or could be unjust.
“Honesty is duty, boy. It’s your duty
To become an honest man.”

It took me decades to sort out her gold from her ore.
No parent’s wisdom is ever pure, nor is anyone’s.

I wasn’t kind and fair or just to my peers growing up,
And especially not to the girls, and not to my first wife.
I measured them all in light of mom’s impossible strength,
And all fell short of the standards that I unfairly imposed.
But I mostly sorted it out sometime around mid-life.

Mom had her velvet side. Her kind and generous side,
But she never felt much need to make a show of her softer virtues,
And I suspect more people than I actually know of,
Never noticed that side of her, but rather thought her a bit cold.

Do not tell me now that a woman’s strength
Lies merely in her getting her way.
I have seen the false in that.
I have seen the superficial in that.
I have known plenty of people who get their way,
But who are not true to themselves.

People who get their way,
But who are forgeries of other people.
We are all born apes who naturally ape each other.
Some have aped nearly everything they call themselves,
But some have aped less that’s untrue to them.

The path to authenticity
Is paved with hardened bricks of ruthless honesty,
Especially with yourself.

Lie to the world as a last resort,
But lying to you will cripple you, debase you,
And can never be justified as a last resort.
Being strong is not being much
Unless you are being true to yourself.

I owe mom for many of my insights,
Nearly all of my strengths,
And at least a few of my flaws.

In the end, I have had to cautiously accept
That I myself cannot help but believe,
Mom was the strongest person I have ever known.

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