Sunday, May 12, 2013

a simple poem for Virginia Woolf

This started out as a simple poem
for Virginia Woolf you know the kind
we women writers write these days
in our own rooms
in our own time
a salute a gesture of friendship
a psychological debt
paid off
I wanted it simple
and perfect round
hard as an
egg I thought
only once I'd said egg
I thought of the smell
of bacon grease and dirty frying pans
and whether there were enough for breakfast
I couldn't help it
I wanted the poem to be carefree and easy
like children playing in the snow
I didn't mean to mention
the price of snowsuits or
how even on the most expensive ones
the zippers always snag
just when you're late for work
and trying to get the children
off to school on time
a straightforward poem
for Virginia Woolf that's all
I wanted really
not something tangled in
domestic life the way
Jane Austen's novels tangled
with her knitting her embroidery
whatever it was she hid them under
I didn't mean to go into all that
didn't intend to get confessional
and tell you how
every time I read a good poem
by a woman writer I'm always peeking
behind it trying to see
if she's still married
or has a lover at least
wanted to know what she did
with her kids while she wrote it
or whether she had any
and if she didn't if she'd chosen
not to or if she did did she
choose and why I didn't mean
to bother with that

And I certainly wasn't going
to tell you about the time
my best friend was sick in intensive care
and I went down to see her
but they wouldn't let me in
because I wasn't her husband
or her father her mother
I wasn't family
I was just her friend
and the friendship of women
wasn't mentioned in hospital policy
or how I went out and kicked
a dent in the fender of my car
and sat there crying because
if she died I wouldn't be able
to tell her how much I loved her
(though she didn't and we laugh
about it now) but that's what got me
started I suppose wanting to write
a gesture of friendship
for a woman for a woman writer
for Virginia Woolf
and thinking I could do it
easily separating the words
from the lives they come from
that's what a good poem should do
after all and I wasn't going to make excuses
for being a woman blaming years of silence
for leaving us
so much to say
This started out as a simple poem
for Virginia Woolf
it wasn't going to mention history
or choices or women's lives
the complexities of women's friendships
or the countless gritty details
of an ordinary woman's life
that never appear in poems at all
yet even as I write these words
those ordinary details intervene
between the poem I meant to write
and this one where the delicate faces
of my children faces of friends
of women I have never even seen
glow on the blank pages
and deeper than any silence
press around me
waiting their turn

Poem by Kingston Ontario poet Bronwen Wallace  (1945-1989)
Paintings of the island she looked at in Lake of the Woods near Morson Northwestern Ontario by Pauline Johnson (1927-2007) (my mother)


  1. When I say happy mothers day, you and the poet, and Virginia Woolf know I mean sacred, and that 'herstory' records it that way, and that I
    read the texts, listen to the
    words not spoken, see signs
    in all the secret places.

  2. Thank you for sharing
    this mother's day gift.
    I am passing it along to my mother and my daughter.

  3. I don't usually post such long texts, but it did not seem possible to abbreviate this beautiful, wrenching poem.

    And it all seemed to fit because Virginia Woolf was my mother's absolutely favourite author, and my mother was like an island, and she spent the last twenty years of her life in Kingston and that is where Bronwyn Wallace, the poet of this piece who only lived 44 years, in fact they lived in Kingston at the same time, my mother moved here with my father in 1987, and these paintings are all around this condo in Kingston and I am leaving tomorrow, and my father is staying for a while here, by himself, and then moving closer to me up on Manitoulin Island, where I've lived for twenty years.

    Happy Mother's Day to all of you out there who balance so many things and yet keep on.


  4. hey, back-atcha.

  5. oh. yes. you've got me wordless, but full of thought.

  6. thank you for passing on those heartfelt words. happy Mothers' Day

  7. Absolutely lovely! All of it.

    I love your mother's Island, surrounded by those (womb) waters... like a Room of her Own out there.
    I have an Island almost just like this from a lake in childhood we would boat out to, these images give me back that place again...

    Didn't know of Bronwyn Wallace, she died way too young for such a giving woman. Cancer and our environmental pollutions of food, air, water, earth, animals (us)... makes me so very very very very *%$#@O*:> !

    Thank you for the human touch u show. Happy Mother's day.

    (I knew I liked your mom) :)

  8. I like this poem very much!!!! beautyful!!!

  9. Oh what a lovely post. Thank you for sharing this wonderful poem ant the beautiful paintings. Happy Mother's Day to you.

  10. What an poem! Thankyou so much for sharing it.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx