Cloudmother

Siobhan Harvey Click to read more...

HarveySiobhan Harvey is the author of the poetry collection Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts, 2011) and a book of literary interviews, Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion (Cape Catley, 2010). Recently her work has appeared in magazines from the U.S., Australia, the U.K., and New Zealand, such as Evergreen Review, Meanjin, Stand, Structo and Tuesday Poem. She’s the Poetry Editor of Takahe and Coordinator of National Poetry Day in New Zealand. In 2011, she was runner up in the Landfall Essay Prize and Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She has a Poet’s Page on The Poetry Archive.

When a child starts school, so too the parents:
this is a truth cloudmother can’t escape.

Here are others – when a teacher favours a child,
so too the parents; when a classmate befriends a child,

so too the parents; when a label owns a child,
so too the parents. The mother most of all.

The handwriting lessons that failed to prepare her for life;
the teachers who saw careers in computers not art or poetry;

the years she spent invisibly circling the schoolyard:
the institutional past cloudmother thought she’d shed

returns. What follows are a sleepless night and a waking
to a trick of the light that breaks across the harbour

and makes sea and sky one, their limpidity fusing them
into image and duplicate, a lone kawau observing all.

When cloudmother escorts her son to class, everything
he is yet to bear and be pained by unfurls in her

like a hailstorm. Drear mornings of multiplication
when cloudboy’s eyes float outside to nimbostrati dark

and static as the wings of dead wasps or caged starlings;
lunchtimes of lonely drifting around the playground

when reaching out towards faint cirrostrati refracted
into halo phenomena is easier than making a friend;

afternoons reading Gulliver’s Travels to restless pyrocumuli,
“behold an Island in the Air, inhabited by Men who were able to raise,

or sink, or put it into Progressive Motion…”: cloudmother sees
these will precipitate her son’s future, just as for her they will

birth times before the bell when parents gather to gossip
and she’ll race to places where only cloudboy can find her.

Later classmates will rain their mothers’ whispers upon cloudboy
until they condense icily in the air he and cloudmother occupy:

cold spells about junk food turning cloudboy into a freak;
cold spells about the mother turning cloudboy into a freak.

 


Note: A year ago, my son was diagnosed with autism. It has taken us eight years of his life and four years of his schooling to reach this diagnosis. Parents of autistic children can find that one of the hardest things about supporting their child isn’t their autism but the inflexibility of the school system which, even in these enlightened times, can so easily and quickly make children outcasts because of their difference. This is certainly my experience. “Cloudmother” is part of a body of work I’m writing which voices the difficulties autistic children and their parents encounter. “Kawau” referenced in this poem is the Māori word for a black cormorant.

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Discussion

One Response to Cloudmother

  1. Annie says:

    I love so much about this poem. The Maori words along with the soft, beautiful images of clouds and weather that grow progressively stronger and colder throughout the poem are beautiful and resonant. I also like structurally how the couplets mirror the unity of the mother and her son. I wouldn’t have guessed this poem was about a boy with autism without reading the endnote…I thought the poem conveyed the ideal of any mother wanting to protect her child from the same pain she experienced, which could have been from being different in any sense. And at the same time, the potential for children to follow in their parent’s footsteps remains. This contrast is nicely mirrored in the couplet structure and positive/negative weather imagery as well.

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