I am the remnant for my mother’s
cousin Pearl, a totem standing
in the shoes she had worn
in my mother’s affections.
I’m not sure anymore how, of what
she died, or why her life justified
my mother’s firstborn. There’s no
one left to ask. All I know
is that my Hebrew name,
Penina, means pearl. So what kind
of legacy am I for her except
that I wear pearls and wax lyrical
over this name I carry
because of a dead woman
I never knew, and how it is only
now after mourning so many
of my own people, that I can claim
the name—not for its beauty,
but for its grit, turning months
of brooding on an irritant intruder
into iridescent treasure, a revenge
upon misfortune, writing layer
upon layer more lustrous,
to catch the changing light.
Image: Photo by Tiffany Anthony on Unsplash, licensed under under CC 2.0.
“Nacre” took a month—and five revisions—from start to finish. The first draft focussed primarily on my Hebrew name Penina (meaning “pearl”) and the Cousin Pearl I was named for. The image of a pearl stone’s creation through an irritant was initially quite amorphous and vague. It took some work to connect that image concretely to the theme of writing itself—and to the idea that the irritant that allowed for its magical formation was, for me, grief. The very last step of my process was to shape the poem into tercets. Though writing was an integral part of my healing from my brother’s suicide, this is one of only two of my many poems about grief to address the role of writing directly.