MY PERSONAL FAVORITE
Welcome to the blog and thanks so much for answering the question:
“At this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?”
A Kiss is Just a Kiss
“It’s the kissiest business
in the world. You have to keep
My mother (in her own words)
“didn’t know much,”
but what she knew, she knew.
How to darn a sock’s hole until its universe
imploded into a white dwarf of string theories.
How to polish Window Wax into a mirror
until it reflected a gaze more intense
than Snow White’s stepmother.
How to magically stir the cauldron of laundry
to transform Prussian bluing into a pure white shirt.
And then, her encyclopedic knowledge of movie stars.
She never called them actors or actresses but Stars.
As in the heavens, the constellations, the Big Bang.
Her lessons were taught by chain-smoking
gossip columnists. She poured over their theses
illuminated in the pages of Confidential, The Lowdown,
Hush-Hush, and Uncensored.
My mother could tell you:
how Jean Harlow really died
“It wasn’t kidney failure but she was poisoned
by all that peroxide she used on her hair,”
how Greta Garbo brushed her teeth
“She never used toothpaste–only salt,”
how Joan Crawford plucked her eyebrows
“She didn’t–enough said.”
My mother loved the back-stabbing of it,
the kiss and tell of it, the guilty pleasure of it.
And when she read this quote from Ingrid Bergman–
“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature
to stop speech when words become superfluous”–
my mother (with her blue hands and absent husband) almost
“A Kiss is Just a Kiss” was previously published in The Apalachee Review and included in the book, The Blue Divide (New Issues Press, 2021). Copyright 2021 by Linda Nemec Foster.
“Memory and Forgiveness: A Kiss is Just a Kiss”
When the critically acclaimed movie Terms of Endearment came out in 1983, I saw it with a friend—a neighbor who had a very close and positive relationship with her mother. For those who aren’t familiar with the film, its plot centers around the tumultuous relationship between a controlling mother (played by Shirley MacLaine) and her strong-willed daughter (played by Debra Winger). My friend couldn’t understand the characters’ relationship: how could a mother and daughter fight so much? how could they not have a wonderful friendship (like she had with her mother)?
I don’t remember how I responded to her questions (which I thought were naive) but I do remember telling her I didn’t find the characters’ relationship unrealistic at all. What I didn’t tell her was that I could definitely understand that relationship because I had a similar one with my mother. We were never close, we were never friends. It wasn’t until dementia “softened” her mental capacities in the last seven years of her life that we had some semblance of a decent relationship. That might sound like the irony of ironies —dementia being a “saving grace” of some sort—but it’s true.
And it wasn’t until I acknowledged my mother’s own difficult life of abandonment (her father died when she was 10 and her mother died five years later) that I began to understand her weaknesses, her emotional challenges…and I began to forgive her.
When I wrote this poem, “A Kiss is Just a Kiss,” it went through many drafts (at least 20). But with each draft, I became more convinced of my mother’s love for me—even when she found it so difficult to express that love. Because of the early deaths of both her parents, she was a drop-out and basically had an eighth-grade education. She didn’t read lofty “tomes” written by Fitzgerald or Hemingway, but she was a voracious reader when it came to gossip magazines. She loved learning about the “true lives” of the Hollywood stars. I think it was pure escapism for her—just like her addiction to certain soap operas: General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, Another World. My mother created her “other world” by slipping into the private lives of Jean Harlow and Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and Ava Gardner.
“A Kiss is Just a Kiss” was previously published in the literary journal, Apalachee Review, and included in my new book, The Blue Divide (New Issues Press, 2021). A number of reviewers have described the book as “tender, brutal, unflinching, magical” and my poems as “acknowledging loss wherever it occurs—all with…tenderness and resilience.” I could have never achieved that tenderness and resilience without having the mother I had. With her Window Wax and Prussian bluing, with her obsession for housework and gossip. With the dementia that made her laugh. With the understanding that made me forgive.
Check out the starred review of The Blue Divide in Publisher’s Weekly!
Also, please take a peek at this stunning video of Linda’s poem, “City of Stone, City of Trees,” which was produced as a video/poem with watercolor animation by Matvey Rezanov (who worked on the Oscar-nominated film “Coraline”) and music score by Lena Orsa. The piece was screened at the REELpoetry Video/Film Festival sponsored by Public Poetry in Houston on February 24-28, 2021.
Linda Nemec Foster is the author of twelve collections of poetry including Amber Necklace from Gdansk (finalist for the Ohio Book Award in Poetry), Talking Diamonds (finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year), Living in the Fire Nest, and The Lake Michigan Mermaid (2019 Michigan Notable Book). Her work has been published in numerous magazines and journals: e.g. The Georgia Review, Nimrod, Quarterly West, Witness, New American Writing, North American Review, Paterson Literary Review, and Verse Daily. Foster’s poems have also appeared in anthologies from the U.S. and U.K., been translated in Europe, inspired original music compositions, and have been produced for the stage. Her first commissioned libretto, Spirit of the Lake, will have its world premiere in 2022. She has received over 30 nominations for the Pushcart Prize and awards from the Arts Foundation of Michigan, ArtServe Michigan, National Writer’s Voice, Dyer-Ives Foundation, The Poetry Center (NJ), and the Academy of American Poets. From 2003-05, she served as the first Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In the fall of 2019, she was the poet-in-residence at the University of Bielsko-Biala in Poland. Her new book, The Blue Divide, is forthcoming in April of 2021 from New Issues Press. Foster is the founder of the Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College.
Linda Nemec Foster
poet, writer, literary presenter,
founder, Contemporary Writers Series at Aquinas College
Linda Nemec Foster
IN OTHER NEWS:
I Have the Answer has received a couple of warm hugs after a year in pandemic lockdown. It is a finalist for the Midwest Book Award in the short story category and a category finalist (short story) for the Eric Hoffer Award. In the month of May, it is available at #WSUPress for 40% off. See the link above!
Linda Nemec Foster and I were both featured on “A Little Too Quiet” the stellar Ferndale Library Podcast produced by Jeff Milo. Our interviews are available here: