More Poetry: Family Relationships

After Making Love I Hear Footsteps by Galway Kinnell

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run – as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears – in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder
about the mental capacity of baseball players –
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body –
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

 

Death in the Family by Julie Hill Alger

They call it stroke.
Two we loved were stunned
by that same blow of cudgel
or axe to the brow.
Lost on the earth
they left our circle
broken.

One spent five months
falling from our grasp
mute, her grace, wit,
beauty erased.
Her green eyes gazed at us
as if asking, as if aware,
as if hers. One night
she slipped away;
machinery of mercy
brought her back
to die more slowly.
At long last
she escaped.

Our collie dog
fared better.
A lesser creature, she
had to spend only one day
drifting and reeling,
her brown eyes
beseeching. Then she
was tenderly lifted,
laid on a table,
praised, petted
and set free.

 

Wishes for Sons by Lucille Clifton

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.
i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.
later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn’t believe.    let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.
let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

 

My Mother’s Body by Marge Piercy

1.

The dark socket of the year
the pit, the cave where the sun lies down
and threatens never to rise,
when despair descends softly as the snow
covering all paths and choking roads:

then hawkfaced pain seized you
threw you so you fell with a sharp
cry, a knife tearing a bolt of silk.
My father heard the crash but paid
no mind, napping after lunch

yet fifteen hundred miles north
I heard and dropped a dish.
Your pain sunk talons in my skull
and crouched there cawing, heavy
as a great vessel filled with water,

oil or blood, till suddenly next day
the weight lifted and I knew your mind
had guttered out like the Chanukah
candles that burn so fast, weeping
veils of wax down the chanukiya.

Those candles were laid out,
friends invited, ingredients bought
for latkes and apple pancakes,
that holiday for liberation
and the winter solstice

when tops turn like little planets.
Shall you have all or nothing
take half or pass by untouched?
Nothing you got, Nun said the dreydl
as the room stopped spinning.

The angel folded you up like laundry
your body thin as an empty dress.
Your clothes were curtains
hanging on the window of what had
been your flesh and now was glass.

Outside in Florida shopping plazas
loudspeakers blared Christmas carols
and palm trees were decked with blinking
lights. Except by the tourist
hotels, the beaches were empty.

Pelicans with pregnant pouches
flapped overhead like pterodactyls.
In my mind I felt you die.
First the pain lifted and then
you flickered and went out.

2.

I walk through the rooms of memory.
Sometimes everything is shrouded in dropcloths,
every chair ghostly and muted.

Other times memory lights up from within
bustling scenes acted just the other side
of a scrim through which surely I could reach

my fingers tearing at the flimsy curtain
of time which is and isn’t and will be
the stuff of which we’re made and unmade.

In sleep the other night I met you, seventeen
your first nasty marriage just annulled,
thin from your abortion, clutching a book

against your cheek and trying to look
older, trying to took middle class,
trying for a job at Wanamaker’s,

dressing for parties in cast off
stage costumes of your sisters. Your eyes
were hazy with dreams. You did not

notice me waving as you wandered
past and I saw your slip was showing.
You stood still while I fixed your clothes,

as if I were your mother. Remember me
combing your springy black hair, ringlets
that seemed metallic, glittering;

remember me dressing you, my seventy year
old mother who was my last dollbaby,
giving you too late what your youth had wanted.

3.

What is this mask of skin we wear,
what is this dress of flesh,
this coat of few colors and little hair?

This voluptuous seething heap of desires
and fears, squeaking mice turned up
in a steaming haystack with their babies?

This coat has been handed down, an heirloom
this coat of black hair and ample flesh,
this coat of pale slightly ruddy skin.

This set of hips and thighs, these buttocks
they provided cushioning for my grandmother
Hannah, for my mother Bert and for me

and we all sat on them in turn, those major
muscles on which we walk and walk and walk
over the earth in search of peace and plenty.

My mother is my mirror and I am hers.
What do we see? Our face grown young again,
our breasts grown firm, legs lean and elegant.

Our arms quivering with fat, eyes
set in the bark of wrinkles, hands puffy,
our belly seamed with childbearing,

Give me your dress that I might try it on.
Oh it will not fit you mother, you are too fat.
I will not fit you mother.

I will not be the bride you can dress,
the obedient dutiful daughter you would chew,
a dog’s leather bone to sharpen your teeth.

You strike me sometimes just to hear the sound.
Loneliness turns your fingers into hooks
barbed and drawing blood with their caress.

My twin, my sister, my lost love,
I carry you in me like an embryo
as once you carried me.

4.

What is it we turn from, what is it we fear?
Did I truly think you could put me back inside?
Did I think I would fall into you as into a molten
furnace and be recast, that I would become you?

What did you fear in me, the child who wore
your hair, the woman who let that black hair
grow long as a banner of darkness, when you
a proper flapper wore yours cropped?

You pushed and you pulled on my rubbery
flesh, you kneaded me like a ball of dough.
Rise, rise, and then you pounded me flat.
Secretly the bones formed in the bread.

I became willful, private as a cat.
You never knew what alleys I had wandered.
You called me bad and I posed like a gutter
queen in a dress sewn of knives.

All I feared was being stuck in a box
with a lid. A good woman appeared to me
indistinguishable from a dead one
except that she worked all the time.

Your payday never came. Your dreams ran
with bright colors like Mexican cottons
that bled onto the drab sheets of the day
and would not bleach with scrubbing.

My dear, what you said was one thing
but what you sang was another, sweetly
subversive and dark as blackberries
and I became the daughter of your dream.

This body is your body, ashes now
and roses, but alive in my eyes, my breasts,
my throat, my thighs. You run in me
a tang of salt in the creek waters of my blood,

you sing in my mind like wine. What you
did not dare in your life you dare in mine.

 

The Life-Changing, Mind-Blowing Experience of Motherhood

Photo from Parents Connect

After you’ve been a parent for a while, you begin to take the fact that your children are in the world for granted. It’s as if they’ve always been here. Every once in a while you have a flashback to when they were born, or to life before motherhood, and at those moments you marvel at your transformation.

That’s right: your transformation. We’re used to talking about motherhood in terms of the changes our children go through, but the truth is it is our own changes that we struggle with the most. How did I get here? is a common refrain of all mothers. You even begin to forget what you were like before you had children.

You may have never intended to have children or felt particularly maternal. And yet suddenly—and it does seem to happen suddenly, despite nine months of incubating your child inside you—you find yourself turned inside out (in more ways than one). Your perspective changes. You may feel joy, you may feel terror, but whatever you feel, it is completely different from anything you’ve felt before.

I had my first child right before I turned 22. By the time I was 28, I had four. I became totally defined by that fact. Everywhere I went, I had four “appendages.” Everything I did, or wanted to do, became filtered by how it would affect my children.

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Watching “Babies”

Yesterday I went to perhaps a perfect film for Mother’s Day: Focus Films’ “Babies,” which follows four babies from different parts of the world from birth until they begin to walk. The film has absolutely no commentary: all the audience knows is what it sees. And there is a lot to look at.

The babies grow up in radically different environments; the two that are rural—Namibia and Mongolia— are less affluent than the two that are urban—Tokyo, Japan and San Francisco, California and there is a wide variety in toys and child-rearing techniques. But what struck me the most was how similar the babies’ development was. I came away from the movie with the impression that all babies are pretty much alike: adorable.

The only problem that I had with the film was its limited scope. There were no explanations whatsoever. We’re not even sure if two of these babies have siblings (although the child from Namibia had no lack of playmates.) But then the focus was meant to be on the babies and as long as you’re okay with that, you’ll enjoy the movie immensely.

Lament of an Older Mother

On May 27th, it will officially be thirty years since the last time I gave birth. Yes, my baby is turning thirty. I have four children and the oldest is 36. I’m an old mother. I don’t just mean that I’m old in years; I mean that I’ve been at this a long, long time. I’m an old hand at motherhood.

But years on the job doesn’t mean that I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t know if you ever get better at motherhood.  Because with your children you never get to start over. (That’s what being a grandmother is for.) Being a mother is like being on a roller coaster ride that you’re never allowed to embark from. Ever. No matter how scared you get or how badly you need to pee, you’re stuck, for life.

You may have noticed that this isn’t your usual sappy Mother’s Day post.

Every time I write in a profile or a bio that I’m a mother, I look at those words and think, “I am??” When did that happen? How did that happen? Not that I don’t know the way it works. After four children, I better have figured it out.

No, what I mean is: how did that become so much a part of my identity that I mention it before anything else?  Frankly, I’m surprised that it’s the first thing I think to tell people about myself.  Because most of the time I don’t think about being a mother, not consciously anyway. It’s not as if I wake up every morning and think to myself, “I’m a mother.” (In case that’s inconceivable to you whose children are still at home, just wait, you’ll get there.) But somewhere inside me, I must be constantly aware that I have children out there somewhere.

I didn’t make that pledge for nothing.

You know what I mean, those of you who are mothers. The pledge you make each time you become a mother, that you will do everything in your power to make sure this child is happy and safe. It’s your sacred duty. That’s why it’s so hard on you when you realize that you’re not all that good at it. And why it’s so disheartening when others don’t get why it means so much to you. Being a mother is the most significant thing you will ever do with your life.

So why am I constantly plagued by feelings that I haven’t accomplished enough? Isn’t motherhood enough? On one level, yes, it is. But I hate to tell you, folks, motherhood doesn’t solve all your problems; it’s a lot better at creating them. And yet maybe that’s what makes us who we are: the problems that we face in life and how we respond to them.

A while back, when I was writing a post about the men in my life, I wrote that outside of my daughters, women haven’t had as big an influence on my life as men have. What I was saying was that my daughters have molded me more than being a daughter has. That’s not to say that my mother wasn’t a huge influence. But she only sculpted the basic shape of my being; my daughters have chipped, and are still chipping, away the rough edges.

Sometimes I think I’m a worse person since my children all flew the nest. Certainly I’m more selfish. I tell myself that I deserve to be after so many years constantly at the beck and call of four demanding baby birds. But you know what? In the broad scheme of things, it wasn’t all that long a time. 24 years out of 58. Less than half of my lifetime so far.

And the years without them under my feet just keep stacking up. I don’t mean that they don’t still need me. They do. It’s just in a different way than they used to. They need to know that I’m there (and the operative word is “there“). They need me on their terms, not on mine.

One reason why I’ve become such a detached mother is out of self-preservation. You see, there are many ways of being selfish. And for all the exasperation it brought, the years when my children were home with me were the best years of my life. Because I felt needed, every single day (okay, every single second). It made me feel connected to something bigger than myself. I used to love going places with my girls, having them all around me. They were my brood. I was obviously a mother.

These days no one wants to hear about my children beyond the fact that I have some. No one asks to see pictures of them. No one wants to hear little anecdotes about their lives. It’s as if being an older mother is like being put out to pasture. You can’t have children anymore, so you’re all washed up.

That’s one of the hardest things about being an older mother. People don’t care anymore.

Except for your children, if you’re lucky. And you know what? That’s enough for me.

The QuiverFull Movement: Family Non-Planning

You would have to be on a desert island to not know about the Duggar family who have been showcased on The Learning Channel (TLC). Jim Bob and Michelle have more than replaced themselves in this crowded world by adding 19 children to it. Of course, in some parts of the world, 19 isn’t unheard of. (And get this, the record number of children born to one woman is 69!*) But it’s rarity for the U.S.

What makes the Duggars particularly noteworthy is the reason they have so many children: They belong to the QuiverFull movement, which believes that it is God’s will for a woman to have as many children as she is able to. Contraception, even natural family planning, is a sin. (There’s also a group called Blessed Arrows which is for those who have been sterilized where they can “make amends for their sin” by getting reversals.)

Devotees of the QuiverFull movement teach that children are a blessing from God and that attempting to avoid a pregnancy is a subversion of God’s will. Everything is in God’s hands: the health of the mother or baby, the emotional and financial resources necessary to support another child, and the “so-called” problems of over-population and over-consumption. Obviously, they are against abortion, which puts them at odds with  most feminists. That’s not the only thing that alarms feminists, however. They also preach that the man is the head of the household and the wife is to be submissive to him in all things. They blame all the ills of society on women wanting their own way, especially over their own bodies, which are meant to be a “living sacrifice” to God.

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Babies Before (Or Instead Of) Marriage: What’s Your Opinion?

Does it matter when Baby comes?

The just-released State of Our Unions report tells us that the percentage of kids born outside of marriage rose from 18% to 40% just since 1980. Not only that, but the number of kids whose parents are “just living together” rose from just under half a million to over 2.5 million during that same period. But that doesn’t mean that marriage is on its way out. The same report states that among high school seniors, 71% of boys and 82% of girls said that “having a good marriage and family life is extremely important” to them. But at the same time, over half also said “having a child without being married is experimenting with a worthwhile lifestyle or not affecting anyone else.” (Except for the child, of course.)

In data collected by The National Campaign, 47% of 18 to 24-year-olds say they expect to marry and have a baby with their current partner, but not necessarily in that order. Certainly, the example set by celebrities is that it’s almost the norm to have one or more children–or at least getting pregnant–before marrying (if they even marry at all).  Are young people today following the lead of those who are in the public eye, or are the celebrities merely mirroring the changing norms of society? Or is it a little of both?

It might sound like I’m disapproving. And I am, a little. I can understand an unplanned pregnancy precipitating a wedding. I can even accept a woman having a baby when she doesn’t have an ongoing relationship with the father. But if you’re going to get married anyway, why have your baby before the wedding? Wouldn’t you rather be husband and wife before you’re father and mother?

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