The Best Literary Writing About Mothers and Motherhood

Jennifer Franklin – Poems

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He thought when he took my tongue,
he could keep me from telling
but my fingers speak for me now.

I sleep by day while the arrogant sun
cuts the window as his knife cut me.
Nightly, I cannot consider sleep.

My fingers fly over thread,
banishing the pain that slices
my mouth—relentless blade.

His face looms as I weave.
In these brutal scenes, I discover
something better than beauty.

I never expected to survive
so when I transformed agony
into a tapestry shaming afternoon light,

tulips and bedclothes opened
to take me. Through the wide window,
birdsong fills the empty room.

He doesn’t understand that losing
the ability to speak is not
the same as remaining silent.



In a room with four other
Vermeers, hung on gray,
her blue silk shawl mirrors

the wall’s embrace. She taunts
visitors the way my daughter does
Her expression promises

she’s on the verge of revealing
every truth with a mouth that
will never open to speak. She

stares into our eyes as she hangs
between two masterpieces which,
on any other wall, would command

our attention. Beside her, the girl
playing the lute and the woman
haunting a window are splendid

afterthoughts as light bursts in
to drag their hearts into the world.
She’s my only concern. Her eyes

and mouth intimate humorous
secrets of the world. Her face, no—
a pale moon in a black sky.


Once the pain had subsided—
changed its name to discomfort,
a door opened to a large room

where there was space and time
to reflect on what he had done.
In that sparse room I found

I’ll never be inside my body
again—it will always sit
behind me, pressing into me—

chainmail I will never shed.
This ache is with me even in sleep—
phantom breath of a lover

bedded beside me. Here, I plant
seedlings and water them, more
patient and silent than the flowers

I raise in window boxes. He’ll
never admit what he has done, but
in the blue afternoon of regret,

I realize this is no small gift.
I need not wrestle with absolution
since he will never repent.


Jennifer Franklin (AB Brown University, MFA Columbia University School of the Arts) is the author of two full-length collections, Looming (Elixir 2015) and No Small Gift (Four Way Books 2018). She was nominated for a Rona Jaffe Award in 2016. Her poetry has appeared widely in anthologies, literary magazines, and journals including Blackbird, Boston Review, Gettysburg Review, The Nation, Paris Review, “poem-a-day” on, Prairie Schooner, and Southwest Review. She is a co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. She teaches poetry workshops and seminars at The Bowery Poetry Club and The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, where she serves as Program Director. She lives in New York City.


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