Words of WonderMy Mother’s Love - Pascale Petit

I asked my mother
where she kept her love
and she answered:

My love is a golden bird
in a crystal cage

and that cage is perched
on the head of a fat boa
coiled at the top of a tree

and that tree is surrounded
by scorpions
and tigers and bears.

So I went in search of the tree
and fought the beasts
around its trunk.

I fought the fat snake.
But when I opened the cage

I found a goldcrest
with its wings torn off.

by Pascale Petit


I often turn to poetry for comfort and guidance, but this poem by Cornwall based poet Pascale Petit, starkly gives us neither. Yet it is the one that stands out in my memory from the throng of poems I’ve read recently. And even though it’s heartbreaking I love it, because it awakens my heart, though granted painfully.

It’s an extraordinary description of human complexity and the endless quest to find love in the maelstrom. It seems we are all searching, first setting our sights on others and then perhaps on ourselves. We are all in some way fighting scorpions, tigers, bears and ‘the fat boa’ at the summit of it all, as we are tirelessly and dauntlessly driven forward by our formidable longing for ultimate love. We are so tragically honourable and troubled at the same time!

And then, to arrive at the crystal cage after all this and find a goldcrest with its wings torn off. Such brokenness and torment! In recent years I have faced the question – what if being human means facing an irredeemable fate? I think I always used to live in the assumption of – if we’re good enough, if we do the right thing, if, if, if… then life will treat us well. Now I’m not so sure. Life experience is toppling any reliance on this idea.
But, maybe if we turn more towards our own scorpions, tigers and bears, and towards that inner coiled boa, the struggle and acceptance this demands of us, might be the alchemy that means the goldcrest can sing. Even amidst the irredeemable fate we face, even with torn off wings? (I would love to hear other’s thoughts on this! It’s not something I’ve ever spoken about…)

And here’s the thing. As I write this, I realised that there is one essential element in the poem which was invisible to me until this moment. The tree! The tree is the holder of it all, the spreading ecosystem in which it all happens, and the supporter of the boa, the crystal cage and the goldcrest. I would like to be the tree, steady in the maelstrom, home of the goldcrest, unconquerable by beasts. And even if my goldcrest has no wings, I feel the existence of that crest of gold to be wondrous and I will sing, perhaps haltingly, in a broken voice, perhaps only sometimes, perhaps from being all twisted up, but I hope in my own true voice and from love.

See, I still want to end with salvation! It would be hard for me to finish a blog without it. Credit goes to Pascale Petit for having the courage to write a poem which ends this way. And the difference is, I think, that the true redemption is not in finding mother’s love, but is an inside job. And this is why mindfulness and compassion practice bring hope.

Fay Adams

PS. If you’d like to go on a journey into the landscape of the human heart through poetry and mindfulness check out these two opportunities: a one day retreat or a 6 week course.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash


This poem was found in THIS ANTHOLOGY