Unintended Gifts | The Woman Inside


I walked into my home office intending to do some work just like I do every other day. But on this particular winter evening, my gaze focused on my mom’s poetry books which I’ve had on display on the top shelf of my bookcase for several years. Lured by an invisible beckoning, I climbed on my office chair, reached for them, went to another room, opened the first one, and read it from cover to cover. I then took the second book and did the same thing.

As I sat reading – taking in every single word and appreciating every period, comma and ellipsis – I began to feel what she must have been feeling. Every emotion expressed in those verses ran through my body, and tears streamed down my cheeks. For the first time I saw my mother not just as a mother, sister, entrepreneur or grandmother, but as a woman. And, in doing so, I saw myself. And also for the first time, I truly appreciated her art, courage and vulnerability, and I realized that the love she wrote about is the love that I’ve longed for all along. It was like having the opportunity to travel back in time and see her through different eyes.

I was a teenager when my mother published her first poetry book, and our relationship was already rocky. I could not understand why my mom would dare to write love poems AND publish them in our small town of Tegucigalpa for everyone to read. I felt mortified. At the time, my idea of what a mom should be was shaped by a society centered on religious conservatism and machismo. I wanted my mom to be pure, demure and totally dedicated to her children. I was totally oblivious to the fact that she was a woman – a vibrant woman in the prime of her life, to boot. My mom was a free spirit. She loved music, cooking, traveling, romance, family, writing and life itself. I think she was a person who was in love with love.

When she gifted me copies of her then recently published books, I did not read them through and through, and what I did read was stifled by my resistance and my judgment. In the 30 plus years since, I read many of the poems, and thought I appreciated them. But I don’t think I really did. The reckoning I had that winter evening – when I read her poems of love, passion and surrender for three hours straight and let the feelings conveyed in those words grab hold of me – was cathartic. I felt my mom, and I felt like my mom. Does that make sense?

I, too, have mostly defined myself as a mother and career woman, befitting my passage through a great portion of my life as a single, working mom. Things have changed, though. I’ve defined my work, and my daughter is grown with a young family of her own. It’s just Peter and me at home now. This calls for the woman in me to take center stage, and my mom’s poetry has given rise to my voice in ways I had not previously fathomed.

My mother, Maritza Berlioz, had divorced and started writing poetry in the early 70s. She found inspiration and the time to write while raising three kids on her own and building a business. In her verses, she expresses her deepest feelings – sometimes joyous, sometimes melancholy and, at times, even defiant. It speaks to the soul and the heart, transcending time, age and geography. I can see and feel her zest for life and her total surrender to giving and receiving love as the wonderful thing that it is. No longer do I judge her. I know that she has lived life fully as she attests to in the introduction to her first book when echoing poet Amado Nervo’s words, “Life, you owe me nothing! Life, we are at peace!”

It has been hard to watch her suffer with depression for the last five years. Thankfully, she is now recovering her verve. She spent the holidays with us last year, and her visit was healing for both of us. Was my reencounter with her poetry two months later a continuation of this healing? I reckon I won’t fully know what possessed me to read her poetry 30 years later until time allows for perspective and I’m able to connect the dots. What I know today is that her poetry has given expression to a part of me that I’ve largely ignored. So much so that I was inspired to bring her work to the world, and I and recently published her book, Sin Nombre, (Without Name) on Amazon. I plan to translate it into English and publish that version in the near future.

Truly seeing my mother just as she is – a woman like you and me – has finally let love be the river that carries our relationship. Her poetry enclosed unintended gifts for me – acceptance, recognition and love.

Do you see the woman inside your mom? The woman inside yourself?

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