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The poem is written by Lorna Goodison. In this poem, the speaker is a mother who is talking to the man who has employed her son into a life of violence and crime. The man has given her son a submachine gun and employed him to work for him. The mother is a single mother and has raised her son by working hard. She wishes for her son to grow up and become a good man, but is afraid that the life of crime and violence will kill him one day.
About the poet
Lorna Gaye Goodison was born in 1947 in Jamaica. She is a poet, writer and an essayist. She was appointed the status of Poet Laureate of Jamaica in 2017. She has many publications in her name, including “I Am Becoming My Mother”, “From Harvey River” and “Oracabessa”.
The poem is structured in six octets. An octet is a stanza which consists of eight lines each.
Her son was first made known to her as a sense of unease, a need to cry for little reasons and a metallic tide rising in her mouth each morning. Such signs made her know That she was not alone in her body. She carried him full term tight up under her heart.
The poem begins by describing how the woman found out about her son, her pregnancy. She found out through the fluctuations in her hormones and emotions and the morning sickness everyday. These signs made her know that she was pregnant with a child. The woman went through the entire pregnancy for nine months and held him near to her heart both metaphorically and literally.
These lines tell the reader that the woman had not planned for the pregnancy and only got to know about it through the physical signs given by her body. This shows that the woman might have been irresponsible and gotten pregnant without having planned for a child. But she later accepts the fact and carries out the pregnancy for full nine months. She kept him tight under her heart. This symbolizes that even though the pregnancy was unplanned, the woman still accepted and loved the child.
She carried him like the poor carry hope, hope you get a break or a visa, hope one child go through and remember you. He had no father. The man she made him with had more like him, he was fair-minded he treated all his children with equal and unbiased indifference.
The speaker now tells us that the child was like a ray of hope for the woman as it is for poor people. They think that by having a child they can be lifted out of their poverty. The same way, the woman hoped that her son would be able to get a visa to work abroad and remember to send his mother some money. The speaker then tells us that the child did not have a present father. The father treated all his children in the same unbiased manner by not being in contact with any of them.
The poet compares the woman’s child to poor people’s hope. She wishes that her son would acquire a visa. This would allow him to move abroad to better opportunities and earn enough money to live nicely. She thinks that once the son goes abroad, it will be her ticket out of poverty as he would remember his mother and send her his money. She then tells the reader that the man who made the child with her is no longer present in their lives. The son has no father and the man is “fair-minded” and has removed himself from their lives. The next lines show that the man has several children but he is not involved in supporting any of them, either financially or emotionally. He is indifferent to their existence.
She raise him twice, once as mother Then as father, set no ceiling On what he could be doctor, earth healer, pilot take wings. But now he tells her he is working for you, that you value him so much you give him one whole submachine gun for him alone.
The woman says that she raised her son two times. Once by being a mother to him and then again by being the father. She allowed him to dream and set his aspirations high. She did not control his ambitions and says that he could become whatever he wanted to, a doctor, an earth healer or a pilot. But now she finds out that her son is working for a dangerous man. She addresses the man and tells him that her son said that the “you value him so much that “you” have given her son a whole submachine gun to opterale alone.
The first few lines talk about the absence of the father and how it impacted their lives. The woman had to raise her son single handedly. She had to put twice the effort to take care of him and fulfill the roles of both mother and father. She supports her son and has high expectations for him. She has presented no limit or “Ceiling” for his potential and believes that he can become anything. She wants him to follow noble professions like being a doctor or a pilot, etc. But her hopes come crashing down when she says that her son has been employed by a dangerous man. Her son has been recruited by a gunman who tells him that he is very valuable. The gunman has given her son a submachine gun to operate all alone. This gives her a sense of sadness and her son a sense of false pride.
He says you are like a father to him she is wondering what kind of father would give a son hot and exploding death, when he asks him for bread. She went downtown and bought three and one-third yards of black cloth and a deep crowned and veiled hat for the day he draw his bloody salary.
In these lines we can see the speaker telling the man that her son, who has no male-figure in his life, thinks that the gunman is like a father to him. But she wonders what kind of a father would hand a weapon to a child and tell them to kill other people just to earn money for the food. Seeing this, the woman decides to go downtown and buy herself some black cloth and netted veil as if she was preparing for a funeral. She does this because she knows that her son’s death is imminent while working for the gunman. His salary will be bloody.
The son had no positive male role model in his life growing up because his father was indifferent to his existence. So now he looks at the gunman like a father. But the gunman is truly malicious as instead of treading the child like a son, he is handing him hot and dangerous weapons. The mother asks how he can do so when the child is asking for “bread”, i.e. food. The gunman is truly evil. The woman is fully convinced that the path that her son has chosen to wa;k on will only lead to premature death due to crime and violence, so to symbolize this she goes and buys black clothes for his funeral. She does this because she knows that the money and the salary that her son is looking forward to while operating submachine guns is going to be filled with blood and death.
She has no power over you and this at the level of earth, what she has are prayers and a mother’s tears and at knee city she uses them. She says psalms for him she reads psalms for you she weeps for his soul her eyewater covers you.
In this stanza the speaker tells us that the woman has lost hope because she knows she can not harm the gunman in any physical way, as he has more power over her. So she focuses on her faith and religion to help her son out of the situation. She prays and cries for her son’s safety, she says psalms for her son and reads them for the gunman. She cries and hopes that the teardrops will save her son and drown the gunman.
The woman is smart enough to know that she does not have enough physical or political power to harm the gunman. So she turns towards religion. She says this with a tone of resignation. She has faith in her god and knows that her prayers will be answered. So she decides to pray and weep for the safe return of her son. She will say psalms for her son, which means to wish protection and guidance for him. For the gunman she will not say the psalms but read them. It is known that reading psalms for someone means to pray for their downfall or some suffering to befall the person. The same way she will shed tears of sadness for her son and hope to drown the gunman with the water.
She is throwing a partner with Judas Iscariot’s mother the thief on the left-hand side of the cross, his mother is the banker, her draw though is first and last for she still throwing two hands as mother and father. She is prepared, she is done. Absalom.
The woman now relates herself to the mother of the famous betrayer in the Bible, Judas. She says that she is now a partner to that mother, as both of their sons committed crime. Judas was crucified next to Jesus and the same way her own sin will be killed too. She has to make two payments for the sin of her son as she is both his mother and his father. She realizes this and accepts her fate because she knows she can not escape it.
This stanza is filled with biblical allusions. First the mother says that she is now a partner to the mother of Judas. Judas was one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. Judas betrayed Jesus and was a thief. He was in the end killed and crucified along with Jesus, on the “left-hand side of the cross”. The same way, her son is also going to be killed. So both of these mothers are partners because their offsprings have committed crimes. The mother has two “draws” coming for her. This means that she has to make two payments because of the actions her son is doing. Two payments because she is playing the role of both the parents, as she said earlier, she is both the mother and the father to her son. There is a tone of acceptance in the last line as she realizes what is going to happen with bitter resignation. She is prepared for the outcome and finishes off by saying “Absalom”, like saying Amen after a prayer. Absalom is another reference to the Bible, as Absalom was the name of the man who plotted to kill his own father.