“A Pale Arrangement of Hands,” also from Picture Bride, begins with the poet sitting at the kitchen table listening to the all-night rain. Seeing her own hands on the table, she remembers her mother’s hands, which always seemed nervous “except when they were busy cooking”: “Her hands would assume a certain confidence/ then, as she rubbed and patted butter/ all over a turkey as though/ she were soaping and scrubbing up a baby.” The poet further recalls that her mother used to describe the rain in Hawaii as “liquid sunshine” to her three children. Further associations bring back memories of the mother applying lipstick; the poet remembers the mother using her discarded tissues for a surprising purpose during rainy afternoons when the children were idle: She shows them “how to make artificial carnations . . . with a couple of hairpins.” As the memory unfolds, many more mundane but fond episodes emerge.
By detours, the poet’s memories begin to reel back to the present, concluding with one more memory—of the children’s habitual refusal to take a nap in the afternoon, which for the mother was the longest part of the day: “Sleep meant pretending. Lying still/ but alert, I listened from the next room/ as my mother slipped out of her damp dress./ The cloth crumpling onto the bathroom floor/ made a light, sad sound.”
Although the poem appears to be unstructured and plain, and although the moments captured are mundane, Song’s ability to re-create the vivid and even noisy scenes of childhood is unmistakable. The poem also exemplifies Song’s favorite device of bringing the past and the present together. More important, however, “A Pale Arrangement of Hands” is a good example of what Song and Juliet S. Kono have characterized as women writers’ voices. The mother in the poem is not deified, but the poet, through negotiations between her subjectivity and her subject matter, has given an ordinary mother a voice—a tribute to women who have most of the time been silent. The poem “The Seamstress,” from the same book, can also be interpreted from a similar perspective, as can “Humble Jar” from Frameless Windows, Squares of Light, a poem occasioned by the memory of an assortment of buttons that the mother kept in a jar.