For a Five-Year-Old
A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see, and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.
I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives, and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another.
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
and we are kind to snails.
Fleur Adcock, Poems 1960-2000, Bloodaxe Books, 2000 .
This poem by Fleur Adcock reminds me of my mother, and it is one that is in the unkempt and mislabeled filing system of my mind. It's the connection of kindness and truth, and the phrasing of the last two lines that make me think of her. The harshness of the truths in the second stanza of the poem, so harsh they make the reader wonder if they are all true, well, they are necessary to making the poem work the way it does. It's so good.
There's a family story which is related to this poem resonating with me as well. When my sister and I were young, Mom saw an opportunity to teach us a bit about science. There were a couple of slugs near the house that she sprinkled with salt to show us how they dehydrate. "You were both mortified," she said, when retelling this family story. "You cried. I felt awful." It wasn't an entirely botched lesson. I still think about it, and the places where wonder and sadness meet.
Also, I try to stay hydrated when working outside.
Thanks, Mom. I miss the realness of you.