Jean Valentine's "Seeing You" was first published in the 1990 January/February issue of American Poetry Review. Subsequently, the poem was included in Valentine's 1992 collection of poetry called The River at Wolf and then republished in the collection Door in the Mountain: New and Collected Poems, 1965–2003 (2004).
Valentine often writes about her mother and her lovers. "Seeing You" combines these two subjects in an effort to show that the experience of getting to know one's mother and the intimacy of that relationship are similar to the experience of one's relationship with a lover. In particular, revelations of understanding—of truly "seeing" the mother or lover physically and emotionally—are much the same astounding turning points in life.
Valentine discusses in this poem a child's dependency on its mother for life and nurture as well as the realization that, despite her love, the mother has fears arising from the challenges of parenting. The resulting appreciation of the commitment of the mother deepens the relationship and brings joy to the child. There is also joy in falling in love, in getting to know another person who is absolutely a glorious wonder. As Valentine expresses in "Seeing You," when one is in love, one wants to know everything there is to know about the other person, and so the impulse is to plunge into getting to know the beloved, much as one plunges into a lake and is immersed. The revelations are many, including the experience of ultimate intimacy, of seeing each other unclothed, literally and emotionally. "Seeing You" is a poem about that moment of revelation and realization that brings tremendous growth and happiness in a loving relationship.
In this first section of the two-section poem, the narrator, "I," describes being born as coming out from under a mudbank and being given a boat. The care provided by the mother is compared to being given a home in the mother's hand, but the hand is empty. Perhaps the hand is empty because, ultimately, all a parent can do is give a child life; after that, even with the parent's guiding hand, the child is on its own to make something of that life. The idea behind the further description of the hand as being made of four stars, like a kite, is perhaps that of the future. A child has its mother's protection when held in her hand, but that safe place cannot last forever. The child must fly out of the nest of its mother's hand, perhaps clinging to a kite, but the future could be as bright as the four stars that give structure to the kite.
The narrator's tone throughout the poem is one of wonder and awe. By the fourth stanza, the child can sense the mother's fears and trepidations as palpably as the child is able to lick the fear from between the fingers of the mother's cradling hand. The fear is everywhere. This fear is enough to frighten the child into wanting to die, but the mother's role is to encourage and inspire, so sparks arise out of the river, symbolizing the mother, upon which the child's boat has been afloat. These sparks reflect the brilliance of the mother's love as well as her fear, but with her love dominating, and the child is able to truly see the mother in this light.
(The entire section is 862 words.)