The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

You Would See She Exists by Sarah Sadie

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You would see she exists in defined space composed of small detail: apples, thread, car keys, what’s for dinner Wednesday. If she could move from thread and grocery lists to questions of destiny, love, death—

but life interrupts in the opposite direction, insists upon the particular in the shape of her daughter wandering in wondering where her boots are, of the non-negotiable need to finish errands before the school bus arrives.

So we are delivered to comedy. “Mrs. B. gave up trying to fathom the ways of fate and fortune and focused instead on the refrigerator’s innards, which had been ripening noticeably since Tuesday.”

Then again, what is small? What is composed? Why does she feel the floor continually threatening to melt out from under her feet?

Where she lives the streets are designed to curl and confuse. There are no easy intersections and the landscape begins to wild, her transports an odyssey and her husband’s accord.

Somewhere along about halfway, she becomes nocturnal. Night waits all day, just at the roots, cool around the ankles, at evening, rises slowly. It seeps up, up until it reaches sky and she is submerged in that new element

those liquid hours when her house fills with breathing of sleepers. Boundaries blur in the dark, time bends non-linear, and shapes may shift. Night is when she flies.

Her life and art revolve around three “I”s: Intimacy, Intensity and Immediacy. Her husband has no easy time of it. Motherhood adds two more: Interruption and Insistence. These five eyes dance their is through all her art and thought. She’s more than half way to spider.

Poetry shares its five eyes, nonlinearity and focus on the specific with the old tales, the tales we consign to children. In these stories usual hierarchies of relevance tumble. The very small (a crust of bread, a mouse, a golden needle or simple handkerchief) suddenly proves crucial to the adventure’s success. Any larger question becomes distraction. Yes, yes, we say, we may well wonder why we are put on earth but what is important is for the miller’s daughter to offer bread when the old woman knocks at the door.


Drug companies want us to believe eight hours of unbroken sleep each night is normal. Nothing could be further from truth.

Just a day or two ago, or maybe this morning, she compared notes with her husband. They agreed that they were married before they were legally married. He posited they became official when she flew out to Seattle, a twenty-something, and they moved in together and merged bank accounts.

“Oh no,” she disagreed. “I knew we’d be together long before that, when we danced at a midwinter ball, just nineteen. In a lit hall, with snow and ice blue and cold in the night outside, we danced under gold lights, and I knew all at once that you would be the father of my children.”

All these years they’ve lived with different visions, different versions of their marriage.

Half of each week, her husband works in another part of the state. To avoid a tedious daily commute, they bought a small, one-bedroom apartment in that other town during the foreclosure crisis. It’s worth pausing for a moment to appreciate this.

Occasionally they drive the children over for a vacation weekend. The kids sleep on couch and floor but there’s an indoor swimming pool and ping-pong and they love it.

Tonight, as she cleans and readies for the journey home, she leaves her daughter’s three princess water toys in the bathtub for her husband to find next week.

She does this believing that he will see them as mess, detritus from a vacation that she overlooked, more proof of her careless housekeeping. He’ll sigh, audibly or not, and pick them up out of the bath, put them away somewhere he won’t see them until his daughter visits again.

She leaves them there anyway, emissaries.

Belle sighing, Girls grow up.
Cinderella nods, tired. Even a queen grows restless.
And Ariel, facedown, repeats We were here. We were here.

When an artist paints a self-portrait, she looks in a mirror even if she has a photo clipped to the easel. But the mirror can’t show her the public self that others see. Everything is reversed.

I’m changing my name, she tells her husband.

What’s changed? he asks.

I’m not going to smile for the camera.

Outside of all profession as Penelope, she drives her Odyssey around the corners of her mazey neighborhood trying not to get lost in the woods. She sticks her poems into birdhouses and occasional small magazines, like bread crumbs.

How do you define invisible?

Already she questions and crosses out her first sentences. The language baffles her into essays of erasure, circular palimpsests. Spider webs re-vision, re-phrase, spiral out and back in. Language has not been invented. The five eyes of poetry stare her down, and so she tries again.

Intuitive. Internal. Two more for your basket, dearie.


Sarah Sadie’s poetry has begun to appear here and there, although she rarely does. Her work is curated by Sarah Busse, co-editor of Verse Wisconsin and Cowfeather Press, and one of Madison’s Poets Laureate (2012-2015).


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