The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Rocked by the Waters, Poems of Motherhood, Margaret Hasse and Athena Kildegaard, Eds.

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Review by Ana C.H. Silva

 

 

The opening epigraph of Rocked by the Waters, Poems of Motherhood, edited by Margaret Hasse and Athena Kildegaard, offers this collection “to everyone rocked by the waters.” Immediately I thought of my post-partum doula who reassured me, in my first week, that I was doing well “surrendering to the wave.” While I white-knuckled two infants at my breasts, panic in my eyes, she nodded,“You’re letting it all wash over you.” I was skeptical of the compliment at the time, but years later, I’m sure of it. As the 136 poems in this collection attest, there is an unflinching wisdom won in motherhood, and it’s found by plunging in.

Sweet, feral babies populate these pages, along with the missing or estranged. The velocity of our ferocious love and expanded hearts. The terror of death contained within the impulse to care. Stories of quiet loss no one else remembers. The way we listen to our intuition and also lose the thread of it. The rightness that our children will leave us. The way we might tell beautiful, assured lies, or swear, or withhold our words. Humor. Mirroring. The complexity of our recognitions. Two poets call to the Virgin Madonna; one with a bracing rejection, another with soft understanding. There’s plenty of space for the unknown, the unanswered. The recognition that “No adjective changes baby” as is noted in “Writing About the First Months” by Carolyn Williams-Noren (170)

I read this collection with great relish, my twins now 12, at the edge of their childhood. Though our mothering paths are our own, I enjoyed flashes of recognition. When Leslie Adrienne Miller’s “The Scooters” recounts neighborhood boys:

One towhead peels on gravel
at the alley turn, rakes his knees
in puddle sludge and grit; another
leads him limping to a mother,
any mother now that the message
has gotten through: we’re interchange-
able, standing at all the back doors
armed with antiseptic and soap (12)

Her portrait of communal motherhood brought me back to the warm, solid feel of a stranger’s child in my arms; I picked her up at a playground, after a fall, without thinking, as comforted and surprised by that fluid, instinctive act as the toddler herself.

The heart-breaking “Aren, Two Years Old, Playing at Orchard Park”  by Kris Bigalk braids the stories of her child’s illness, her lost hopes, and the hard-won wisdom she wants to pass to her son.

I want to tell them how I held
hopes, at first flickering like fireflies,
in my cupped hands, a glance
of light glinting now and then
between my fingers,
but when I opened
my palms, their gray bodies
curled up like withered prayers,
dry as paper.(14)

In Rebecca Foust’s “Abeyance: letter to my transgender daughter,”(28) we sense love and understanding curling around regret like the smell of the cabbage, chard, and thyme she’s cooking for dinner. There is much regret in this collection, bravely admitted and offered up to our children. There is also the fierce confidence of motherlove.

In “What I Think About When Someone Uses ‘Pussy’ As a Synonym for ‘Weak” by Beth Ann Fennelly notes, “In order to come back with the baby, I had to tear it out at the root. Understand, I did this without the aid of my hands” (53)

Sometimes motherhood is framed in conflict with other forces, like racism. JP Howard’s poem reminds us in “Etheree For My Suns/Sons in Amerika” with her brittle

no joke, raising black sons in this country
no matter how bright they shine, they black

and her tender

sons
can hear
me humming
them lullabies
in their dreams, i think (15)

“Pine” by Ye Chun indicates great longing in the heart of motherhood, and the overlap with Mother Earth.

When your red limbs unfold like petals,
my needles are falling.

When your soles are snail chill,
My needles are falling.

My brown-haired child, I’ve seen you
Walk toward me bare-footed,

Dreaming to be known
I’ve seen you lie down on my golden needles

To be framed by your own stillness.
I say breathe, my child, breathe.

I’ve heard your red heartbeats,
Red hoofs leaping. (9)

“Love Like Horses” by Athena Kildegaard reflects on the way our children present as a Zen koan to us, waking us up like a clear bell.

It was then, looking at you as if
For the first time again, a sharp knife
In my hand, the crisp celestial scent
Of celery rising from the chopping block (22)

For a good portion of the time, as I read this abundant collection, I sat outside, waiting for a mother robin to come back to her fattening nestlings. Sometimes she was gone for several poems, and I worried, and then, such an outcry when she returned with a forceful, quiet swoop.

Rocked by the Waters: Poems of Motherhood, Co-editors Margaret Hasse and:Athena Kildegaard
Nodin Press, 2020 Paper, 236 pages $19.95
ISBN 9781947237261

Ana C. H. Silva lives in East Harlem, NYC and West Shokan, NY. Her poems are in Podium, Rogue Agent, The Mom Egg Review, the nth position, Snow Monkey, Chronogram, StepAway Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Between the Lines, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Shantih Journal.  Ana curates the MER online Gallery. She won the inaugural Rachel Wetzsteon Memorial Poetry Prize at the 92nd St. Y Unterberg Poetry Center. Her 2019 poetry chapbook, One Cupped Hand Above the Other, is with Dancing Girl Press; a new chapbook, While Mercury Fish is coming this summer from Finishing Line Press.

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