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Mama's Promises


49 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations


  Paperback / 9780807112502 / August 1985

“Waniek is a poet of intelligence, passion, and gentleness with a fine sense of the comic and unfailing judgment about what constitutes a poetic line. She creates a rich mixture of impressions about the speaker of these poems as a woman who is at the same time n her mid-twenties and her mid-fifties, who is black and white and red, who is both trapped by and freed by motherhood.” —Miller Williams

Marilyn Waniek writes with great wisdom and compassion. Grounded but never earthbound, her poems speak honestly and eloquently about giving birth, nurturing life, and facing death; they inhabit the present, fully aware of their responsibilities to the past and the future. Waniek leaves us with the affecting strength and assurance of lasting things, as in the poem “Mama’s Promise.”

But the dangerous highway
curves through blue evenings
when I hold his yielding hand
and snip his minuscule nails
with my vicious-looking scissors.
I carry him around
like an egg in a spoon,
and I remember a porcelain fawn,
a best friend’s trust,
my broken faith in myself.
It’s not my grace that keeps me erect
as the sidewalk clatters downhill
under my rollerskate wheels.

Then I think of Mama, 
her bountiful breasts. 
When I was a child, I really swear,
Mama’s kisses could heal.
I remember her promise,
and whisper it over my sweet son’s sleep:
When you float to the bottom, child,
like a mote down a sunbeam,
you’ll see me from a trillion miles away:
my eyes looking upon you,
my arms outstretched for you like night.

From “Mama’s Promise” published in Mama’s Promises by Marilyn Nelson.
Copyright © 1985 by Marilyn Nelson Waniek. All rights reserved.

Marilyn Nelson is the author of numerous books, including The Cachoeira Tales and Other Poems, The Fields of Praise, and Magnificat. Her honors include three National Book Award Finalist medals, the Frost Medal, the Poets’ Prize, and the Boston Globe/Hornbook Award. Nelson is an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut, the former poet laureate of Connecticut, and founder and director of Soul Mountain Retreat.

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