A Poet in the Family

My husband’s great great aunt, Emma Safley, was a poet. She lived in small town Iowa and was a stay at home mom to 4 children. Quite honestly, this is probably why I like her work so much. Having been a stay at home mom myself for the first 10 or so years of motherhood and a work from home mom currently, the essence of her words have always touched me. I read her poems and I recall moments from my life. They make me smile, laugh, and sometimes sigh from a twinge of sadness.

I’m no expert, and in fact I don’t really like to read poetry all that much, but I find her work genuine and honest and at times quite a bit snarky which suits me perfectly. Take this one for example:

Just a Stone

I once showed a friend a small striped stone
That I had picked up on a wild beach
Along the North Sea in Scotland.
“What’s that?” she asked,
As if it were a common lump of dirt.
“Just a stone,” I answered.
“What will you do with it?” she wanted to know.
“I’ll lay it on a shelf with other treasures,
And sometimes I’ll pick it up and fondle it,” I said.
She snorted.
I never let her see any other stories.

Isn’t that funny? She cracks me up.

One of the things I love so much about her poetry is that she talks about ordinary things, common things, as she calls them in the title of her book. Just ordinary experiences, like washing and hanging clothes. But then she adds a bit of magic.

The Day of the Butterfly

It started like any ordinary summer day:
I was hanging a washing out in my usual way,
Thankful for sunshine and soap and a washing machine,
Four lively children to wash for, and washing come clean —
The commonplace things mothers find to be grateful for,
Not expecting, and seldom receiving anything more.

As I lifted my hand to brush something out of my hair,
I glanced at a window-reflection. Incredibly, there,
I saw a butterfly resting on top of my head.
(There were flowers enough in the garden, let it be said.)

It waved its beautiful wings a time or two,
And when it was ready, it weightlessly lifted and flew.
I’ll always remember the day. Ever after I wear
A butterfly memory perched in my everyday hair.

And then sometimes she was sad. I don’t know a lot about Emma, but I imagine this was about her husband. I remember the first time I read this one, I think I had just read a bit of her sarcasm and was reading along. The title didn’t warn me to the deep sadness here.

Practice Makes Perfect
He couldn’t bear to see me cry,
And not that he is dead and gone
I have no tears. The well is dry,
Yet aridly my life goes on.

And so as to not end on a sad note, here is one where she is at the same time poking fun at the women that ask her to read poetry to them and being vulnerable about how meaningful her writing is to her. Enjoy! And thanks for reading🙂

Stricken

Because I am sorry for Program Committees
I said yes I would read some of my poetry
At the November meeting of the Ladies Improvement Society.

I gave them my best: my ecstasy and my grief,
Serenity and turmoil, tragedy and beauty,
Hyacinths to feed their souls.

They clapped politely when I stopped,
And then hurried off to line up
For refreshments.

Of course you can’t really eat hyacinths.

3 comments

  1. Love, love, love all of these (please share more), but particularly love when she wrote: A butterfly memory perched in my everyday hair.

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