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Daughter of Canadian immigrants who attended one-room schoolhouses, Monica McAlpine was the first in her family to go to college. She took her BA from Nazareth College and her PhD from the University of Rochester. At the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she taught many first-generation students like herself. Specializing in medieval literature, she published two books and several articles, mainly on Chaucer. Her poems have appeared in Ibbetson Street, Leon, Poetry Quarterly, The Aurorean, and Wilderness House Literary Review. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband. They have two grandchildren.
The poems in Winter Bride teach us the meaning of care-giving. At age forty-six, Monica McAlpine’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As the poet came of age, she devoted herself to helping her mother as that disease took its inevitable toll. These artful and deeply moving poems show us how hope can survive in the face of despair. They also show us a care-giver who, over a life-time, learns how to care for herself. ~Fred Marchant, author of Said Not Said (Graywolf Press)
Winter Bride is a gripping story, rich in detail, of a child who becomes a caregiver as her mother sinks into Parkinson’s disease. But it is also an emotionally complex exploration of memory, conveyed through frequent questioning and relentless honesty. Juxtaposing child and mother, past and present, knowing and not knowing, Monica McAlpine takes us on a brave journey of discovery and restoration. Once you’ve opened this book, you won’t want to put it down. ~Martha Collins, author of Because What Else Could I Do
Winter Bride confronts the ambivalence of a child caring for a mother with Parkinson’s, and an adult looking back. Though the poet describes her as Beautiful among snow banks, in another poem where she must help with her mother’s girdle she, concludes: “hook and eye, hook and eye, /she and I hook and eye.” By light of this extraordinary image, we see discomfort, verging on fusion. With various poetic forms, done expertly, the poet leads us through thickets of emotions. ~Suzanne E. Berger, author of Legacies, These Rooms, Horizontal Woman
What Can You Tell Me
about the young mother you can’t remember?
Was she beautiful?
Yes, her eyes grey-blue, her hair wavy.
“Pleasingly plump,” as they used to say.
Did she enjoy motherhood?
She kept baby books, saved a lock
of my hair in a glassine envelope.
A hard worker?
She took in boarders, cooked for an ill sister,
kept a gleaming white porch with potted ferns.
Did she laugh easily?
Photographs record her smiles. I wish I could hear her laughter.
Anything else? Something you do remember?
The affection I heard in the voices
of all who spoke her name, “May.”
Iola: “Never Discouraged”
Algonquin name of the TB sanitarium in Rochester, with English translation
Like a debutante lifting her gown
on the dance floor,
a smiling May holds her pleated skirt
out to one side, photographed
on the lawn with a favorite nurse.
Was my mother happy there,
in that place whose name was whispered,
that place whose contagion
threatened passing cars
with their windows rolled up tight?
All the eggs and milk she could want,
fresh air in solaria. Afternoon rest—a virtue
not a weakness. The company of women
in female-only wards. Yes, at thirty-one
May could have been almost happy there,
and in the end her sheeted body
would not be smuggled out
late at night. No, sent home
with a warning against child-bearing,
she would live,
live to wear, five years later,
this fraying wedding dress.
See here, and here—
how it remembers
her scrawny torso, bony wrists.
Our Last Summer on Lake Ontario
Her naked body fleshy, pale.
My father and I struggling
to get my mother out
of the shower. All of us wet.
Soaked, half-dry, wet again—
our bathing suits, all day long
in July’s delicious languor.
My sister, my brother and I ran
straight out the door to the water
until that year the sand
giving way, dipping, sliding.
She sat in the cottage
with its mismatched furniture,
flaking paint, no view of the lake.
We took turns keeping her company,
our time at the shore
Breathless under the shower’s spray,
she froze, her feet glued to the linoleum,
refusing all her pleas to lift, to move.
No walking out of this walk-in shower,
Ten years old, propping up one side
of my mother’s flaccid body, I knew
I was living through an ending
even before I heard my father say
“We can’t do this again.”