When I was a child, my mother told me
God has many faces
And She reveals Herself
In many ways. God might be
The cleaning lady who came
To our house on Tuesdays,
Or the woman in rags sitting on the sidewalk,
Or the blind girl lost in the bus station.
You never know, she said, who She is
Or what She has in mind for us.
This from a Southern Baptist girl
Whose family sent her sisters to college
And passed her by. She learned
About the world through novels
And movies — endless stories folded
Into endless laundry. She bore
Five children in five years.
This kind generous woman
Overwhelmed by work,
Sustained by dreaming, blinded
By the bright light
Of love, raised denial
To an art form. Everyone she knew
Was a secret perfection.
Our best selves were exactly
What she knew us to be.
Her husband was not
A narcissistic bully,
Vain, egotistical and angry, no,
He was a hero who charged
Into work every single day
To provide for his growing and
Perfect family. Her sister was not
A lesbian who hid a 40 year
Relationship with her partner,
Living a necessary lie,
But rather a woman who so loved
Her friend she would risk
The insults and injuries
I was not a lost young man
Baffled by life, who drank too much,
But her shining prince,
Her Byron, her Cary Grant.
When she shared her vision
Of God’s many faces
With her brother-in-law,
The pastor, he slammed
His fist on his desk
And proclaimed Blasphemy!
She never spoke of it again.
But once, I saw her sitting on the sofa
Stroking the cat, pausing at a page
In National Geographic — an illustration
Of Kali, the blue four-armed goddess,
Tasking her many children,
Nurturing, disciplining the unruly
World. The Divine Mother,
Her long pink tongue sticking out
Defiantly, stands with one foot
Stolidly on the ground,
And one foot on her husband
Shiva, the Destroyer of Worlds,
Who seems oddly content lying there,
While she, the Mother of Time,
Holds the dark severed head
Of his enemy in one hand, another hand
Holding a bowl to catch the dripping blood.
MICHAEL SIMMS has been active in politics and poetry for over 40 years as a writer, teacher, editor, and community activist. He is the founder of Autumn House Press, a nonprofit publisher of books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; Vox Populi, an online magazine of poetry, politics and nature; and Coal Hill Review, an online literary magazine. He’s also the author of four collections of poetry and a college textbook about poetry — and the lead editor of over 100 published books. Simms has an MFA from the University of Iowa and a Certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from Cornell University. He lives with his wife, Eva, and their two children in the historic Mount Washington neighborhood overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.
Author’s note: “‘Love’ is a poem about my mother, Janie Lu Cook Simms, the kindest person I’ve ever known, who had a fierce love for her husband and her family.”
These poems are for Eva.
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