Stanzas one to six

The first line of the poem seems odd - we don’t expect the poet to be meeting her mother for the first time. This establishes the situation of the poem and immediately connects the mother-daughter relationship with the orchids.

The poet insists that they are:

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still alive, twelve days later

This suggests that she has looked after them carefully. The caesura in line two and the enjambement between stanza one and two unsettle the reader. We learn that the orchids are not flourishing:

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some of the buds remain closed as secrets

This connects the flowers to the mother and her reticence about her past.

Kay notes how protective she has been, carrying them like a baby in a shawl. The simile looks back to the past, when Kay was a baby in need of protection - protection that the mother could not provide.

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...the whole glass carafe has crashed/ falling over, unprovoked...

Here Kay conveys a sudden and intense event. The use of assonance in glass, carafe, crashed creates a sense of her panic and fright. The orchid and the glass are fragile and could easily be destroyed. But they have survived. The minor sentence All the broken waters is significant here as it deliberately connects the incident to birth.

The poet attempts to rearrange the upset orchids but she has troubled hands. Her emotion is affecting her deeply. It is implied that meeting her mother for the first time has unsettled her. There are things unresolved that she wants to know, but her mother will not open up to her. The closed buds do not open:

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The skin/ shut like an eye in the dark

The use of skin personifies the flowers here and the simile gives us an impression of the mother’s secretiveness.