Christmas Memory Inspires Our First Poetry Contest Winner

May 8, 2017

Remember when we launched our Mother's Day Poetry Contest? Our judge, Susan Porterfield, picked five winning poems out of the 85 we received.

Bonnie Amesquita reading her poem "A Memory of My Mother at Christmas."
Credit Carl Nelson

The authors get to read their work on WNIJ this week during Morning Edition. Porterfield also picked a runner-up which we'll tell you more about on Friday.

Our first winner is "A Memory of My Mother at Christmas," by Bonnie Amesquita of DeKalb. Porterfield explains her selection in the video and text below:

What first caught my attention about this poem was its detail. The scene is set: a child’s memory of the mother at Christmas Mass, her “slender fingers,” her perfume. We understand who she is from the child’s perspective right away, because the minutiae are so vivid.

But the detail that really interested me was when the poem mentions the mother’s high heels and how they made her “wobble” on icy streets as she walks her four children home from church. Those high heels do a lot of heavy lifting in this piece; they place this poem in a particular timeframe or decade, for one thin; and, for another, they show us who this determined woman is. Those high heels say, "It’s winter?  So what!  I’m not going to church in boots.   Unthinkable!"

Another lovely point in this poem comes when the child momentarily conflates the idea of Mother Mary with her own mother. On the walk home, the family group stops to look at a nativity, and our narrator looks back and forth from the statue of Mary to her own mother and tells us that, in the light of the street lamp, her mother’s hair “sparkles” as if, one could speculate, her mother were wearing a halo. But just as Mother Mary is all mothers, our mothers have something of the saint in them too.

Here's a video of Amesquita reading her poem in our studios, followed by the text:

A  Memory of My Mother at Christmas

her long slender fingers

run lightly through my hair

and the scent of her perfume

mingles with the smell of incense burning

at midnight mass

she points to the English words in her prayer book

while the priest intones them in Latin

See? she whispers-- This word means that

as though I am old enough to understand

what sacred words really mean

struggling against bad weather

she walks us home in the cold that Christmas night

four children and a small fierce woman

her high heels wobble on icy sidewalks

We stop to look at an outdoor crèche

I look at the blessed mother Mary

then up at my mother

and think my mother seems far prettier

the cold is sharp and snow falls

but there in the glow of street lights

my mother’s hair sparkles

Amesquita's poems appear in Third Wednesday, Fictional Cafe and Greensilk Journal. She's married to poet Ricardo Amézquita.

Listen for our second winning poem Tuesday during Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45. Come back here after that for a video of the reading, plus Porterfield's remarks.

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