Oh, To Be a “Mother of Mothers”
Writer Kwame Dawes has visited Haiti for months since the earthquake, and has gleaned some beautiful and faith-building stories and poems from the rubble of this benighted place. God has not abandoned Haiti– Jesus is among the afflicted, He visits them in the thin body of pastor Joel Sainton, whose story Dawes tells in a poem called “Job”, and He weeps and prays and rejoices among the strong women of faith the poet movingly describes in “Mother of Mothers”; a poem he read for the PBS Newshour show. And it took my breath away, and I had to take a break from cooking dinner to just weep, and weep.
Yesterday the earth growled under my feet in a 4.1 earthquake, in a reminder that Haiti’s present apocalypse will likely be mine in the near future. I live in a failing state splayed precariously upon a major faultline. May I be like these saints, and persevere as they do through whatever befalls, and though there be nothing outward that is remotely giving any kind of comfort,
“yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:18-19)
Kwame Dawes reads his poems beautifully, he has a sonorous Jamaican timbre to his voice, that is very wonderful to hear, and you can listen to him here. Please, please do! Half of the beauty of poetry is the music of the words. But I recommend just listening to him, and following my text. The photos are beautiful, but I do not believe you can multitask in listening closely here, because the poem’s effect is undermined. Just listen first. Then look. Dawes introduces his poem,
“…it struck me that these mothers were the ones who were also holding the community together.I will tell you a quick story.I was in a church.And I watched an old woman walking around the church.The church had been broken down, so we were in a courtyard.
And she just kept marching around, praying, circling the whole congregation again and again.And I asked who she was.They said, she’s the mother of the church.
That woman — and she — there’s an image of her in the video poem.She struck me as a powerful example of the strength of the Haitian women.
Please don’t miss viewing it, if only to see the “mother of the church” Dawes describes. Who is easy to spot in the video. She is inexplicably beautiful, radiant with a joy impossible to keep in such a bleak world.
But possible if you keep a walk close to God.
“Mother of Mothers.”
“When a brave woman’s out walking, she’s mistress life’s spitting image” — Michel-Ange Hyppolite.
The faces of mothers of mothers, their cheekbones gleaming against taut skins, their eyes glazed with the scarring of so much loss.In Haiti, the mothers of mothers have lamented for so long.All that is left is the sturdy presence of grace, the wide-open heart of knowing how much a casket weighs, how it feels on the open palm.
The mothers of mothers march through the congregation while the children of men clap their hands, beat tambourines, scratch the grater, and sing the flat harmony that shivers the air.
Beneath a cascade of flame yellow and red flamboyants, she stalks the outskirts of the feet-worn worship ground, the outer limits of the congregation, where the weeds and stones have accumulated, here, where the excavation of rubble takes us as far as weary arms and the creaky wheelbarrow can go.
These women draw a pattern of circles with their heavy, planted feet, their arms raised high, their voices continuing with greater ceremony and occasion, that conversation that began with Jesus at 4:00 in the morning.
Oh, the mothers of mothers, who know too well the hottest sorrow, the broken bodies of children, the boy who covers a jaw full of maggots, and the tall lanky son whose spine gives under the weight of concrete before he is pulled out, laid under the soft blue light of a wayside clinic, waiting to go, and, quietly, with the flies returning to his skin, he is still, though he must wait there until dusk, before they notice, before a procession of mothers leads the body out into the night, and mother of mothers, she hears her child wake, look around, and speak, “How nice the air is out here,” before he dies, this time for good.
Mother of mothers, in your bandana and with your holy testament, you must draw the line of defense around the beleaguered souls, and speak a torrent of curses on the beast lurking in the shadows.