‘searching for my mother’
i look for her in the kitchen
in the crevasses of the cupboards
the stacks of spices on the shelves
she left her touch on the pots and pans
but i forgot i washed them the other day
i look for her in the bathroom
in the disarray of makeup
kajal, concealer, the chalkiest pink blush
the stacks of bindis on the mirror surface
i hid them away the other day
i look for her in her bedroom
in between the silks, chiffons and georgettes
from dhaka to calcutta to banaras
the colours of the south bleeding through the wardrobes
i packed them all up the other day
i look for her in the living room
dust circles on the coffee table top
remnants of her on the tv remote, the numbers 6 7 and 8 rubbed off
pictures half hung on the wall
i took them down the other day
i look for her in the garden
i see her love in each rose, every petal as soft as her
the colours of the rainbow washing into the soil
fluorescent reds, pastel yellows, the purest of whites
all cut off the other day
i can’t bear to see you everywhere
but the one place i can’t erase you from is
by bela khandker
'searching for my mother' - Poetry Explained
Loss. Something which we all have to experience one way or another in any given form, at any given moment. Loss can be unpredictable, in the same vein as an incredibly spontaneous neighbour that comes knocking at your door at 3am at night.
I had written this poem during a time when I used poetry as a means to cope with this heavy, aching, burdening feeling of loss. My mother had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer in the end of May, whilst we were in lockdown. That diagnosis came completely out of nowhere. As a woman in her mid 50’s, she was targeted for routine check ups for Breast Cancer and every time - nothing. She was a somewhat healthy woman with no major health concerns. Until lumps developed around her breasts mid May and the rest, the rest is one incomprehensible blur. Still, months later, this shock is still being absorbed and digested. The weeks and months that followed her diagnosis flew by quickly, yet, when I would physically pause and see her deteriorate was when time felt the slowest. Cancer had taken my mother hostage and killed a part of her in the process, almost like it drained her soul. Her body continues to give up on her day after day, night after night. Every day another pain or ache or mental struggle.
The way I see this poem is as if my mother may not be physically dead but the joyous, carefree and strong core of my mother had been lost ever since the day she had been diagnosed. Hence why throughout the poem, I’m packing away the memories of my mother as it pains me to see traces and ‘remnants’ of her everywhere, as she is, and will always continue to be, one of the most significant and influential people in my life.
I go in depth into the smaller, minute details of objects which remind me of her presence. In the first stanza, the ‘stacks of spices’ and the ‘pots and pans’ in the kitchen are significant due to the fact that my mother spends a lot of her time cooking the most delicious food and the well loved pans and the vibrant colours of the spices remind me of her. In the second stanza, the ‘kajal, concealer and the chalkiest pink blush’ are key as my mother uses makeup in a desperate manner to hide her imperfections, as she has always been incredibly insecure about herself. The ‘bindis’ are a cultural reference as red bindis in indian culture signify that a woman is married and women proudly display this and it integrates into their identity. In the third stanza, the ‘silks, chiffons and georgettes’ refer to all the sarees my mother keeps in her wardrobe and which are what she takes much pride in. In the fourth stanza, the ‘6 7 and 8’ allude to the channel numbers that she frequently watches on television, so much so that they’ve faded away and ‘rubbed off’. In the penultimate stanza, I use flowers to describe the gentle, soft nature of my mother. Ever since I was younger, my mother has always been fond of gardening and has always taken care of her plants as if they were her own children, tending to their every need until they blossom every year. The final stanza acts as a reminder that my mother is part of my identity, no matter how hard I try to push away the thoughts of losing her and the pain associated with that. It acts as a pause, a moment to reflect.
Loss in any given context is uncomfortable to confront and is something we as humans tend to flee far away from. We’ve all lost something during this lockdown period, whether it’s losing people that we love to illness or losing out on opportunities we may have had lined up for us. Acceptance and reflection is key in times like this. I’ll never have my mother back in the same healthy way she was before Cancer took over her. She returned to me weak, breastless and essentially broken. I’ve had to adjust and accept the fact that she’s damaged, yet I’m eternally grateful that she’s still living and breathing, alive to see me through another day. Despite being difficult to bear, loss can fuel us to re-examine and re-evaluate our lives and view things from a completely different perspective. The bad has the power to birth good, it just depends on how you see it.
By Bela Khandker, Joint Editor-In-Chief of ‘Tottenham’s Our Canvas’, the arts sub-magazine of ‘The Tottenham Phoenix’