In this final installment of lunch with Mercedes’ clan, we write a poem together, inspired by Nick and Liza’s story about the loss of the stack of love poems decades ago. Or was the flurry of words that were floating and flinging across the table seeking a resting place? Whatever the reason, I pulled a sheet from my notebook and invited someone to propose a first line. From there, we would pass the sheet around the table so that each member of this family could lend his or her voice.
Almost instantaneously, Nick said, “Under the spreading chestnut.” We were all surprised by the “chestnut” reference (who comes up with “chestnut” in the first line of an impromptu poem?). But then he changed his mind: “Oh, no. We can’t use that. That’s from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem.” I’d never read it before but discovered that it is the first line of “The Village Blacksmith,” which turns out to have a beautiful reference to the blacksmith’s mother and whose first line reads “Under a spreading chestnut tree”). Putting on my English teacher hat, I assured him that our poem would contain an allusion to Longfellow, a line lifted partially, borrowed honorably. All eight of us, with Longfellow as the ninth, would co-write a new poem.
Once the sheet had rounded the table, I prepared to recite our words to a rapt audience. But we were all surprised when Nick said he wanted to open our poetry reading with his own poem, a lengthy one he’d written for his wife Kelley awhile back, featuring a mixture of formal language and modern references to black holes and the galaxy. “He just sent it to me in a message one day,” Kelley told us, to which all of us responded, of course, “Awwww.”
This is what I finally got to read to them, a fitting end to a surprisingly intimate Mother’s Day Brunch at The Pfister Hotel:
Under the spreading chestnut
a mother’s love goes far.
And we breathe a sigh of relief
because we know how beautiful you are.
Your beauty is like the sunset–
so pure and full of wonder.
The love we share will never die–
let no man put it asunder.
Look toward the stars, behind the thunder.
Hide your dreams from those who seek to plunder.
But show them to the Lord above
who’s under the spreading chestnut
where a mother’s love goes far.
Happy (every day) Mother’s Day!