The First Time

The first time
I saw my own eyes
staring out from
behind your sweet face,
a mirror of self-love
unencumbered by years
of doubt, sweat, tears.

That first time,
the only time
I saw you
before she took
you away
to a better life.

–Victoria Emmons, 2017

Dedicated to all the mothers 
who had to give up their children.

Clean

I remember the 13 x 9 x 2 aluminum version
Carving out perfect brownies for a crowd
Or the glass model 8 x 6 x 2, the smaller size
For the rare few who stayed up late

I remember baked-on grease forever embedded
Into the fabric of the pans, creating their own
Modern artwork in a chaotic kitchen
The result of motherhood gone awry

Baking meant sustenance, but more than that
It revealed ingenious fortitude, cleverness and pride
Combined with creativity that surpassed all else
I remember that creativity, that strength

And I remember the love that went into each egg
Fried into a perfectly shaped circle inside a slice of bread
A circle that we called breakfast, along with crisp bacon
And always a glass of whole milk or juice, our choice

I remember taking turns at the bar, slipping onto a warm stool
In front of a previously occupied plate still wet with yellow yolk
That she shoved aside to replace with a new, warm toad
One that would be consumed in time to catch a school bus

I remember the burnt days, too, clouded with emotion
Fervent spirit doused for an hour or two, yet
Toad-in-a-hole breakfasts kept flying out of her kitchen
Into our hearts and souls, all four of us children

I remember her pans as I retrieve my own small one
From the dishwasher, not as clean as I would like
The glass still living with some of last night’s meal
My carelessness, the wrong machine setting

I remember we had no dishwasher then, a luxury,
Washed by hand, each greasy skillet or brownie pan
Thus why the grease remained, no doubt, what strength
Do children have to scrub away the toughest stains?

Tools at my disposal, I begin to work, fingers dry and sore
From steel wool combined with cleaning powder that
Lasts as long as I do to see every last speck of memory stain
Removed forever, or until the next chicken Marsala bakes

–Victoria Emmons, ©2017

Flour

Flour’s in my candles
Wipe the kitchen down
Dusty piles of powder
Blowin’ all around

Ne’er thought I’d find all
That sifted, white ground
From drawer to floor
Floatin’ into mounds

But there it lived in
Every tiny crack
Chasin’ the day’s work
Breakin’ mama’s back

Pies and fresh pastries
Sweet raspberry tarts
Takes a lot of flour
And lots of false starts

Ain’t easy bakin’
Those cookies and cakes
Need a lil’ helper
For goodness sakes

Tie up his apron
Give him a good spoon
Young lad must learn
This cookin’ real soon

Flour goes a flyin’
Countertops to walls
Small fingers playin’
Makin’ castles tall

In between buildin’
Draw a shape or two
Learn to use a rollin’ pin
Pies for me and you

Smell the huckleberries
Picked right off the vine
Sprinkle ‘em with sugar
Add some brandy wine

Gentle with the crust, lad,
Crown must not fly high
Seal the edges now
Pinch, pinch, pinch the pie

Straight into the oven
Let’s all clap our hands
Flour rainin’ down
Formin’ mountains of sand

Forty minutes pass
Oven’s sweet perfume
Wafts throughout the house
Into every room

Timer wakes us all
Plates ready to go
The boy still plays
Apron fallin’ like snow

Thus my red candles
Got covered in white
Wouldn’t trade a speck
Of that wonderful sight!

–Victoria Emmons, copyright 2015

Letters

First placed in a dresser drawer
Migrated to a shoebox
Burgeoned to a steamer trunk
Hidden away in a space in the wall
Letters kept safe over 50 years
Uncovered in a renovation

Home owners open them one by one
The story of two lovers unfolding on paper
Over time, through wars, marriage
And children born and died, the letters
Filled with life and hidden passion
Secrets that only lovers share

Those who discover the musings
Seek to find the children, now grown,
With no inkling of correspondence
Between mother and father, letters
Revealing struggles, patience, deep love
And devotion one to the other

Email is not wrapped in purple ribbon
Nor kept in a dresser drawer, perhaps
An iCloud drawer to be savored later
Or uncovered like Ashley Madison clients,
Not quite the same as thin Air Mail paper
With the familiar red, white and blue logo

The Box

Thirty years
More or less
Tumble away
In an instant

Tiny red sneakers
“Left” written
On one toe
“Right” the other

White tee-shirt
Snaps at the shoulder
Easier to slip
Over a wiggly head

Matching series of
Exercise books
A backwards five
Plus a rounded six

Smiley faces on
Stick bodies stand
In a crayon land of
Perpetual rainbows

Pink, smocked dress
Hand-stitched
Seldom worn
Still like new

Stuffed kangaroo
Carries joey
In her pocket
Warm and safe

Red corduroy
Slightly faded
Suits a small jacket
Quite stylish

Tap dance costume
With twirling skirt
Missing one blue
Sequined arm band

Four letters glued
On a volleyball shirt
Spell champion
For that year

Note cards with
College logo
Embossed on fine
Paper stock

Four corners of a hat
Frame a black square
Upon which a tassel
Crowns success

My Little Ponies
In a zip-locked tomb
Emerge to neigh with
The next generation

–Victoria Emmons, copyright 2015

Mother’s Day

As I get older
She fades just a little more
I try hard to remember
Try hard to find moments of love
Hugs and hearty breakfasts
Taxi duty and lessons in etiquette

I want to recall our 18 years
Together as mother and child
I try hard to remember
Her raucous laughter when
My sister made jokes about butterflies
Or the dog chewed up a pillow

I want to be in that moment
Relive my surprise birthday party
Family picnics at the zoo
Or the embarrassment of
Being 24 hours early
To a friend’s baby shower

I try hard to remember
Presents under a tree
A five-dollar bill mailed to France
To help pay for spring break
A torn hem in a wedding gown
Passed down for the ages

I try hard to remember
But my taste fades first
Cowboy cookies mailed in a neat box
Cherry pie under a sugary crust
Overcooked green beans
With bacon on the side

I try hard to remember
The smell of splattered grease on her apron
Orange rolls drizzled with white icing
A steaming cup of Folger’s instant coffee
Always instant, rarely ground
My nose no longer cooperates

I try hard to remember
Wrap my arms around her loving heart
To touch the silver watch
Too tight for her left wrist
And stop time forever
But touch is the next to go

I try hard to remember
The red lips painted on her pretty face
To match the colored fingernails
I replicate today
Her skin soft and smooth remains
A precious gift to me

I try, but it is hard to see
Unless I gaze in a mirror
Count the lines on my own face
Lines of time like hers
From laughter and tears
But my vision blurs now

I try hard to remember
Her loud wake-up calls
In early morning
As she flipped pancakes
And tried to roust the troops
Unwilling to face a new day

I listen and hear nothing
Of the countless story books
Read over and over
To an eager audience of children
And their friends always happy
To be at my house instead of theirs

I try hard to remember
Her sage advice as I stood there
On slippery courthouse steps
A marriage lost and long forgotten
A message of pride as to who I am
No matter the challenge life brings

But hearing also fades
The last to vanish

–Victoria Emmons, ©2015

Hope

Found in more than a thousand places
Hope takes on so many faces.

Will I pass my science test?
Does my father think I’m best?

Will this baby stay alive to
Live nine months and always thrive?

Will the judge be kind to me
Even I when I try to flee?

Will this flower bloom in red
Or only bloom inside my head?

Will I find sweet Allie dog
Lost today amidst the fog?

Will I finish this long race
And, win or lose, accept my place?

Will my love be always there
Even when I need his care?

Will Mom live another day
To smile with me, to laugh and play?

I hope for this, I hope for that
I hope I look good in this new hat.

Hope takes on another face
Hope I keep up this grueling pace.

—Victoria Emmons © 2015

A Mother’s Tale

Blocks in my shoes
Towels about the room
Cows moo, pigs oink
A farmer sings a tune

A smile and then a laugh
A boo-boo on your chin
All part of growing up
A phase you’re living in

Awakening at dawn
Greet a brand new day
Bananas and some Cheerios
And then a round of play

Before your little body
Tuckers out for the morn
Despite all your objections
Sleep before you’re worn

The day renews itself again
More snow, a brand new face
Just in time to search and find
A few good cats to chase

Discover slides and rolling things
Or even steps to climb
The local spot for little kids
Gives all some fun play time

Or take a spin upon a horse
A very different kind
Encircles merry songs
And a golden ring to find

Sleepy baby, your eyes do nod
So much to see and learn
A million miles in your young life
For knowledge do you yearn

Inquiring mind you have, my love
The cabinets are your prey
To open doors for bowls inside
As instruments to play

A string quartet, perhaps,
A drum or two in time
Your rhythmic beat upon the floor
Reminds me that you’re mine

And now the day grows dark, sweet boy
The time for bath is nigh
As music lulls you fast asleep
Night hugs you by and by

–Victoria Emmons, © 2014