Kaddish for My Mother

by Janet Shaw

In the down-pouring
wall boards and window glass melted like clay
the sofa with the sleeping dog
books and beds   everything   everything
turned to brown slurry
sluicing a river into the basement
me waist-deep in the flooded hole   howling
a room full of rain
and ash
“In such a way grace fills an empty soul,”
I was taught. Stupid metaphor!
When the storm broke
there was no roof
over my head

Janet Shaw grew up in Columbia, Missouri, and lived with her husband Bob in Madison, Wisconsin, before settling in Asheville. She has published a collection of short stories, two books of poems, fourteen books of historical fiction for young readers, as well as a novel for adults. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, Antaeus, Esquire, Mademoiselle, New Orleans Review, Primavera and other publications.

About Kaddish for My Mother—When I was a child my parents met regularly with some of their friends to share their poems, read them aloud to each other, and suggest changes. Our house was small and my bedroom was off the living room, so by lying flat on the floor beside the door I could clearly hear the poetry group at work. I heard exclamations of pleasure, groans of dismay, a great deal of laughter, arguments, an occasional challenge flung out, and placating murmurs as the sherry was offered around. And the poems! I heard all of the poems spoken clearly and coming right into my room with the streak of light under my door. When I got older I started writing poems myself, using the same portable Remington typewriter that my parents used and like them making carbon copies to share. Nothing has changed except the technology, and poems continue to come in under my door when I’m quiet and pay close attention.