Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Happy Mother’s Day!

Here are three poems on motherhood — at different times and from different perspectives:

by Linda Pastan

Strapped down,
victim in an old comic book,
I have been here before,
this place where pain winces
off the walls
like too bright light.
Bear down a doctor says,
foreman to sweating laborer,
but this work, this forcing
of one life from another
is something that I signed for
at a moment when I would have signed anything.
Babies should grow in fields;
common as beets or turnips
they should be picked and held
root end up, soil spilling
from between their toes—
and how much easier it would be later,
returning them to earth.
Bear up … bear down … the audience
grows restive, and I’m a new magician
who can’t produce the rabbit
from my swollen hat.
She’s crowning, someone says,
but there is no royal here,
just me, quite barefoot,
greeting my barefoot child.
from A Perfect Circle of Sun, 1971.

by Sharon Olds

Finally I fondly remember even Benylin,
Robitussin, Actifed, 
Tedral, erythromycin,
penicillin, E.E.S., I can
see the tidy open mouth
and the spoon’s regular journey toward it,
the bowl almost convex with its shuddering
load of blackish maroon.
Time slowed down as the spoon went in, I can
still feel the thrum, in the handle,
that little tug like nursing, and then
the pulling of the spoon out of the mouth,
ampicillin, ipecac, St.
Joseph’s, tetracycline, my body
tuned to the four-hour intervals—we made
one being, the bottle and the child and I,
I remember with longing.  Even the ear-drops,
lice-shampoo, wart-glaze,
even the time our son would not take
his Tedral, he was standing in his crib
and spat it out and I gently jammed another
dose through his teeth and he spat it out
until the bars and cruising rail
were splattered with dots of heavy syrup and he
understood I cared about the matter
even more than he.
As I cleaned him up with a damp cloth
I told him the germs were strong, we had to
staunchly fight them—I can hear my voice,
calm and cheerful.  I can see myself,
a young woman with an orderly array of
bottles behind her, she is struggling to be good, to be healed. 
from The Wellspring, 1996.

by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds.  I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seed with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
from Sleeping Preacher, 1992.

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