Nothing Is Enough
sitting amid your litter, feet buried
by accumulated jars of buttons,
glasses lost beneath a decade of bank statements
and funny poems.
Alicia Ostriker, “Mother,” The Volcano Sequence (2002)
The obligation to honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12) is never simple, but it’s especially complicated when relations between parent and child are strained. In her moving poem “Mother,” Alicia Ostriker gives voice to the ethical challenge of caring for her mother when the conflicts of the past loom large.Addressing her mother directly, the poet acknowledges that she has put an “ocean” of distance between herself and her mother, a separation necessitated by her mother’s own attachment issues. Typical of the hoarder, her mother has held onto things that are not meant to be meaningful and as a result, lost a significant human relationship. The poet juxtaposes her mother’s obsession with saving items to her own inability to save her mother from inevitable decline and becoming “blind and helpless.”Ostriker sees her mother in a way her mother was never able to see her. She is “tortured” by her inability to rescue her from this “madness,” to “love you enough” as an exemplary self-sacrificing daughter might. Yet the poem concludes with the stark recognition that in the face of death’s inevitability, “nothing is enough.”