A Woman is a Mother by Sarah Blake
Associate poetry editor Rebecca Pelky, on why she selected Sarah Blake’s "A Woman is a Mother" for our online series: The surreal experience that Sarah Blake designs in the first stanza of “Woman is a Mother” haunts me in the very best way. I think about this poem while I’m washing the dishes. And when I’m brushing my teeth. Bent over white basins, I almost feel a nudge at the back of my throat, a hand reaching up. Like the echoed heartbeat of a child carried for months, rhythm moves quietly but powerfully through every line. And occasionally it kicks me from the inside, which only makes me love it more. Blake moves us seamlessly through scene and dialogue into the harshly honest and beautifully unsettling reflections of the narrator, offering us thoughtful insight into the unique relationship between mother and child.
A Woman is a Mother
My medicines give me dry mouth. Many mornings
I cough up soft, yellow stones the size of insect eggs.
Then, this morning, after rubbing the calluses off
my heels, the back of my tongue felt the familiar bump
that always starts the size of a swollen head. I coughed
and coughed and choked, sure I would die, until a child
fell hard into the sink. “But I was safe,” he said,
“I was safe.”
“That is how I am scared,” I said.
In trying not to cry, his face crumpled. Like a mother,
I couldn’t stand it. “Now, Now,” I said, but like a son,
he could not be comforted. He understood that now
his death was his own.
I was sure he’d been with me
my whole life, but as that was not possible, I knew
he’d been there since I was sixteen, when breaking one
thing birthed another. I hated, then, the lack of balance,
to be opened and left empty, and had felt a gaping hole,
almost entirely beneath the earth. How wrong I was.
He filled all of me, made a frame stronger than my bones.
All at once, he was trying to climb back in my mouth
and I was trying to swallow him down.
Sarah Blake's poetry has appeared in the Boston Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Sentence: a Journal of Prose Poetics, FIELD, Witness, The Threepenny Review, The Awl, and other journals. She received a 2013 Literature Fellowship from the NEA. She's assistant editor at Saturnalia Books and eoetry editor at iARTistas.