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My Mother Really Knew


My father was a tough cookie,

his friends still tell me with a smile.

He was hot-tempered

and had to have his own way,

but they loved him nonetheless,

and so did I.


I remember that

for maybe the first decade of my life

I had to kiss him every night

before I went to bed.


There was one time

he got into a big argument

with the rest of us at dinnertime,

and afterwards when he was in his study

I had to go to sleep

and refused to see him,

a chip off the old block.


But my mother and elder brothers

coaxed me to his door,

and I ran in

and pecked his cheek

without saying a word,

and went to bed

thinking of how unfair life was.


Love, my mother really knew,

was like these islands

formed in part

by tidal waves and hurricanes

and the eruptions of volcanoes,

which suddenly appear

and just as suddenly go away.


©1988 by Wing Tek Lum, Expounding the Doubtful Points.


1. What is the thing that the speaker’s mother knew? How does the author describe it? 


2. Why does the speaker refuse to see his father before going to bed?


3. How do the first and last stanzas tell the lesson of the poem?


4. In line 5, the speaker claims that his father’s friends “loved him nonetheless.” Based on context clues from the first stanza, what do you think this phrase means?

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