Dear Mama, a performance piece
by Irene Hoge Smith

Setting: An empty stage with a lectern in the middle at which the speaker stands

Hello. I’m Irene. I live near Washington DC where, in my day job, I’m a psychotherapist.

I had a difficult relationship with my mother.

In the therapy world this is not entirely unheard of. I understand this may be true in the writing world also.

I am working on a memoir that has to do with my mother and that fraught relationship. Here’s the backstory: She left when I was thirteen years old. My sisters and I ended up in Washington with our father; our mother went to California, picked up her poetry career, and for several years lived with, and had a child with, the beat poet, Charles Bukowski.

In the therapy business we call this a narcissistic injury.

It left me with a bad attitude about poets and poetry, which I am trying to overcome.

The passage of time, therapy of my own, and working on the memoir have helped me move beyond the viewpoint of an outraged child to understand and explain my mother more completely, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to do that. But it is hard work, and there have been setbacks. This piece, written a couple of years before my mother died, is what we might call an “epistolary rant.”

Etiquette Question

Dear Miss Manners,

I have encountered a touchy social situation in which I feel the need for guidance. Of course I always respond in a timely manner to invitations, but seem to be having some difficulty doing so in this particular case.

My mother is a poet of some minor renown in another state.

We are not, as you might say, close.

She left the family when I was a child to pick up her life as a poet. She moved in with another, somewhat better known, poet whom I will call, for purposes of anonymity, Barfly.

She herself has recently written a lovely book of poems that are a fascinating memoir of her entire life, from her very earliest memories until the present day (except for a period of about fifteen years which I have heard her call “that long dry spell” or “pretty much the whole time I was with your father.”).

I have received an announcement of her book launch party, with a personal note from the author expressing the hope that I might attend.

Dear Mama,

I am touched, although a bit surprised, that you would like me to attend your book launch party. I have read with interest the autobiographical prose poems in your new collection, Grandma Stories, and I am fascinated to observe that there does not seem to be ONE SINGLE WORD ABOUT ME OR PATTY OR SALLY OR RUTHIE!. . . .

       Crumple page, drop to lectern

Dear FrancEyE,

It is certainly an admirable accomplishment to have produced, at 85, another book of poems—and such a personal book, too. Anyone who really wants to get to know you will find this a treasure trove of insight into the inner workings of your . . . mind?

       Crumple page, drop to lectern

TO: Frances Dean Smith /aka FrancEyE
FR: Irene Hoge Smith
RE: Project Proposal

Thank you for providing the galleys of your upcoming book, Grandma Stories. What a touching and compelling account of a truly fascinating life! I feel there is one area in which a fine book might be made even better, and that has to do with the period you omit, roughly 1946 to 1960. Understanding that you were not, in the truest sense, present for that period of your life, I’d like to propose that those of us who were might take a stab at filling in the “missing poems.” We have some suggested topics and titles for individual poems, to follow.

1. After the War (You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet)
2. Sacrifice of the Firstborn
3. Infidelities – A Series
4. Houses (Where Do We Live Now?)
5. Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair (along with the kids)
6. The Wasteland

Please let us know what you think. We’re very excited about this project. It’s sure to be a great, great read ESPECIALLY FOR YOU, YOU NUTCASE !!! ….

       Crumple page, drop to lectern

Dear Mama,

Words fail me.