The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Jennifer Franklin – Two Poems

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Jennifer Franklin

APRIL 2020, NYC

 

The winds shake the windows. It has rained for six days as if the gods are punishing us for hubris and hatred. Without school to tire her, my daughter cannot sleep through the night and wakes, talking to herself searching for the key to the kitchen door kept locked for her safety. The dog doesn’t stir when I leave the bed. My daughter flails her body back and forth at the edge of her bed as if she anticipates another seizure. The death count is rising and friends are sick, sleeping all day in their studios. My best friend left the country with her son, not knowing if she will ever return. Woolf wrote, “All day, all night the body intervene…the creature within can only gaze through the pane—it cannot separate off from the body…for a single instant.”

At 3am, everyone is alone—every mistake running on loop. The birds will start chirping in an hour. They never woke this early in the suburbs of my childhood. Their song plays my list of regrets. When my mother was my age, I was finishing graduate school. I am up all night with my nineteen- year-old who understands as much as a nineteen-month-old. It’s too cold two days before May. The room shakes; the wind warns but I can’t decipher its message. Purple tulips hold tight in the beds seven floors below me, as if they, too, are afraid to breathe.

 

 

ANTIGONE READS BEDTIME BOOKS

 

You always want to hear the one
about the moon, not because
it’s celestial but for its closure—
you love the way it lets you say
goodbye. No shocking departure,
no tricks. Predictable, you
memorized it without trouble.
In bed alone, that big room still
looms—each familiar object lined up
to be named. Maybe the comfort is
naming the way gods do. To look
upon the ordinary and form new words
in the mouth. I named you eight years
before you were born, after reading
a book about a river who was a girl
who was a river. I knew you would be
dark and dangerous like my mother,
my grandmother. I did what none
of them could do—I took you to me,
regardless of your doomed blood,
our family curse. When I hold
your bulky body, I don’t feel shame.
Even the moon listens as I sing to you—
so strange is my simple voice.


Jennifer Franklin is the author of two full collections, most recently No Small Gift (Four Way Books, 2018). Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Gettysburg Review, Guernica, JAMA, The Nation, Paris Review, “poem-a-day” on poets.org, and Prairie Schooner. She teaches in the Manhattanville MFA program and at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she is Program Director.

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