In For My Mother: May I Inherit Half Her Strength, Goodison publicizes the private issue of her parents’ less-than-perfect marriage, and, in turn, unfolds a powerful dialectic on female self-sacrifice and subjectivity. She wonders at the prolonged strength of her mother- a woman who, regardless of being the victim of an unfaithful marriage, neither confronts nor flees her fate. And at the core of Goodison’s poem is her own conflicted decision, as the female product of this union, to define her mother’s attitude as unwavering strength, worthy of reverence, or as passivity, masked by nonchalance. The title of this work illustrates this ambiguity: does the clause “may I inherit half her strength”, translate into “may I be permitted - by the same mysterious influence that affected my mother - to remain strong just like her” or “may I never allow myself to be quite as tolerant as she was.”
In the first stanza, Goodison suggests that the “absolute,” “my mother loved my father,” had governed her perspective of her parents’ marriage for twenty-nine years. Its indisputability may have functioned as a motivation for her father’s on-going extra-marital affair(s). But even more explicitly, this absolute implied that despite the pain inflicted by her father, “whom all women loved”, Goodison’s mother’s love remained unshakably loyal, and that that was somehow all that really mattered. At least, up until Goodison wrote this poem. “In this my thirtieth year/ the year to discard absolutes” signals Goodison’s revolt against this belief that had relentlessly threatened to break her mother’s “straight-backed,” fronted dignity and that absolved the indifference of her father’s “always smile”.
The lack of control of Goodison’s writing in the first stanza points to something deeper about her relationship to this absolute. Since absolutes are characteristically irrefutable and deemed factual, I had expected that Goodison’s writing would have illustrated the finiteness of this absolute by sealing it with a full stop. However, here, in the most transparently opinionated stanza of her entire poem, there is no punctuation whatsoever; each distinct thought simply spills into the next, and even farther into the following stanza where her topic diverges. It is difficult to say whether or not Goodison’s omission was deliberate; noneth...
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..., “on her wedding day she wept” and at its setting. She endured “better” and “worse” and at last, “she fell down…to the realization that she did not have to be brave, just this once.” Her tears functioned to honor the sacrifices of “her body… twenty years permanently fat,” of her sewing machine, the emblem of her livelihood, to pay her daughter’s “Senior Cambridge fees,” but also to purge “the pain she bore with the eyes of a queen.”
Nevertheless, mingled with Goodison’s mother’s sorrows, are tears of love for the husband that betrayed her. For My Mother makes a complete revolution, in that it begins with the acknowledgement and criticism of Goodison’s mother’s love for her mother and ends with the reverence for this kind of love that, a seemingly astonished Goodison, cannot comprehend. Even after giving justifications of why her parents’ marriage was far from ideal, the absolute that she so wanted to discard in the first place looms over her unaffected and, of course, undisputed. In an alpha and omega fashion, this absolute in Goodison’s work proves its place amongst other absolutes as an unfathomable force that refuses to be contested and most assuredly, will not be discarded.