Today is the publication day for my second poetry collection BOOM! Needless to say, I am over the moon, not least because this collection has been four years in the making but because of the subject matter – motherhood. My 8th book, it’s probably the most personal book I’ve published to date.
I had the opportunity to give the first reading from the collection at the Wordsworth Trust on Sunday 13th April. It was also the first Writing Motherhood event, accompanied by Sinead Morrissey and Rebecca Goss who read wonderfully and participated in a discussion afterwards about how motherhood has impacted their creativity. A really wonderful event.
Thank you to all of you who have contributed to the Writing Motherhood blog. To all of you, I raise a glass in celebration of this wee book and hope to see you at the launch! (details here). I hope you enjoy the selections of poems included below.
There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.
She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage
– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union
appeared to orbit –
and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds
that were difficult to decode.
On the ridge of threat, we had two options.
One was attempt to make it to the bottom
of the crevice slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other
was see how long we could stand there philosophizing
that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.
But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade
was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.
We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.
As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.
We survived, but in a different state: you became
organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us
that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak
it’s your words that come out of my mouth.
first published in Poetry Review, 102:2, Summer 2012.
They said she was stuck,
as though she was a nine-pound human fork
pronged in the dishwasher,
an umbrella that wouldn’t fold to size.
Stuck because my body had never given birth
so I pushed until I thought I’d turn inside out
and yet she sat in my cervix for hours,
heartbeat like a drum
as the contractions collapsed on me
as they talked about the knife.
Second time round, the sour sensation
of complete idiocy
for willing this pain again, going through it,
risking so much for someone
who remained at the fringes of knowing,
ghosted by awful wisdom
that birth isn’t the end of it, nor the worst –
episiotomy; infections; afterpains; breastfeeding.
But my body remembered,
it took the first shunt of his head, yawned, then
toboganned him out in a gush of brine,
red as a crab. I remember his arms
like a sock full of eggs, muscular, fists bunched,
as though he’d been prepared to fight.
first published in New Statesman, March 2014
Those first few days every part of her wakened,
the seedling eyes stirred by sunlight, tight fists
clamped to her chest like a medieval knight
and slowly loosening, as if the metal hands
were reminded of their likeness to petals
by the flowing hours. Her colors, too,
rose up like disturbed oils in a lake, pooling
through the birth-tinge into human shades,
her ink eyes lightening to an ancestral blue.
The scurf and residue of me on her scalp floated
easily as a pollen from the sweet grass of her hair.
She reminded me of a fern, each morning more
unfurled, the frond-limbs edging away from her
heart, the wide leaves of her face spread to catch
my gaze. Once, I saw the white down of her skin
cloud in my hands, the cream ridges of her nails
drift like crescent moons, the thick blue rope
she had used to descend me tossed like a stone,
as though she was finally free.
first published in The Stinging Fly, 22, Winter 2012/3
Our children are so soft, we imprint them
like a heavy sole stepping into mud
not breaking the ground but reordering
its elements, the way it will hitherto
hold water, light, the curious nose of wind
and voice of earth. Even when later rain
smoothes out that patina something of the mark
holds. Even when the sun whips the wetness
to its pools of night and the stiffened ground
wears its shelled-out grooves, when these deepen
in each punching hail and hollowing storm
the pattern may be nothing like the original
print but art in its own way, no trace of boot
apparent in the striving clay.
first published in Poetry Review 103:2, Summer 2013
Honour Thy Parents
Honour thy father and thy mother
for they have spent the waning flame
of their youth failing
to get you to sleep; long hours by your bed,
singing, pleading. It was not
what they imagined parenthood would be like.
for they have had to figure you out
like a trillion-piece jigsaw
that changed each time
they spied the beginnings of a picture.
Honour them for sparing you,
for fumbling and fretting, dressing and undressing
the foreign shrieking creature you once were
lest you grew too cold, too hot,
these imperfect beings
who confronted their complete dearth of knowledge
at first sight of you,
new and unbearably slight,
they resolved henceforth to do everything
right – honour them
for enduring vagaries and catalogues of advice,
most of it wrong,
for swallowing judgments dealt by strangers
during your many epic meltdowns.
No doubt there were times
you pushed them to some barren edge of love,
embarrassments, harassments of other
children in the park, or when you called them names
in public – fool! Dirty poo-face!
O honour them!
who carried their dreams through your childhood
like beads in a ripped sack,
they were doing their best; understand they were
their own parents’ children – honour them
for they must live with their mistakes,
honour them, which is to say
be all that they were not and do all
they could not, and so honour
your life. And if you find
you can neither forgive nor see in them
the good, the God, or the once unblemished child
think on this –
parenthood is the universal curse
of becoming or overcoming
for better or for worse –
and honour them.