21 Days/21 Poems: Motherhood
Mother, the Great Stones Got to Move
Mother, one stone is wedged across the hole in our history
and sealed with blood wax.
In this hole is our side of the story, exact figures,
headcounts, burial artifacts, documents, lists, maps
showing our way up through the stars; lockets of brass
containing all textures of hair clippings.
It is the half that has never been told,
and some of us must tell it.
Mother, there is the stone on the hearts of some women and men
something like an onyx, cabochon-cut,
which hung on the wearer seeds bad dreams. Speaking for the small
dreamers of this earth, plagued with nightmares, yearning
for healing dreams
we want the stone to move.
Upon an evening like this, mother, when one year is making way
for another, in a ceremony attended by a show of silver stars,
mothers see moon, milk-fed, herself a nursing mother
and we think of our children and the stones upon their future
and we want these stones to move.
For the year going out came in fat at first
but toward the harvest it grew lean,
and many mouth corners gathered white
and another kind of poison, powdered white
was brought in to replace what was green,
And death sells it with one hand
and with the other death palms a gun
then death gets death’s picture
in the paper’s asking
“where does all this death come from?”
Mother, stones are pillows
for the homeless sleep on concrete sheets.
Stone flavors soup, stone is now meat,
the hard-hearted giving our children
stones to eat.
Mother, the great stones over mankind got to move,
It’s been ten thousand years we’ve been watching them now
from various points in the universe.
From the time of our birth as points of light
in the eternal coiled workings of the cosmos.
Roll away stone of poisoned powders come
to blot out the hope of our young.
Move stones of the sacrificial lives we breed
to feed to suicide god of tribalism.
From across the pathway to mount morning
site of the rose quartz fountain
brimming anise and star water
bright fragrant for our children’s future
Mother these great stones got to move.
“Mother, the Great Stones Got to Move” by Lorna Goodison. To Us, All Flowers Are Roses. University of Illinois Press, 1995.
The typical poem in which motherhood is the theme usual limits itself to scenes of domestic conflict. But Lorna Goodison’s canvas is much broader than that. Summoning the great reserve of spiritual strength from the lineage of Caribbean women, Goodison confronts the imperial history of the Caribbean, political tribalism and drug trafficking as equally oppressive forces in the lives of the powerless for whom she speaks.
Yet the voice in the poem is never shrill. Slowly, determinedly the cadence builds, oracle-like, until the plea becomes palpable: “Mother these great stones got to move.”
About Lorna Goodison
Lorna Goodison was born in Kingston, Jamaica, one of nine siblings, and was educated at St. Hugh's High School, a leading Anglican high school in Jamaica and the Jamaica School of Art, before going to New York to study at the Art Students League. She had also been writing poetry since her teenage years; some early poems appeared anonymously in the Jamaica Gleaner.
In her 20s, back in Jamaica, she taught art and worked in advertising and public relations before deciding to pursue a career as a professional writer. She began to publish under her own name in the Jamaica Journal, and to give readings at which she built up an appreciative audience.
In the early 1990s, Goodison began teaching part of the year at various North American universities, including the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan.
Goodison's most recent book is a memoir, From Harvey River (2008). She has published eleven collections of poems: Tamarind Season (1980), I Am Becoming My Mother (1986, winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Americas region), Heartease (1988), Poems (1989), Selected Poems (1992), To Us, All Flowers Are Roses (1995), Turn Thanks (1999), Guinea Woman (2000), Travelling Mercies (2001), Controlling the Silver (2005), and Goldengrove (2006). Goodison has also published two collections of short stories, Baby Mother and the King of Swords (1990) and Fool-Fool Rose Is Leaving Labour-in-Vain Savannah (2005).
She has also exhibited her paintings internationally, and her own artwork is usually featured on the covers of her books.
In 1999, Goodison was awarded the Musgrave Gold Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for her contributions to literature.
Goodison describes poetry as "a dominating, intrusive tyrant. It’s something I have to do--a wicked force".
Poet and literary scholar Edward Baugh says that "one of Goodison’s achievements is that her poetry inscribes the Jamaican sensibility and culture on the text of the world". Apart from issues of home and exile, her work also addresses the power of art to explore and reconcile opposites and contradictions in the Caribbean historical experience.