Tag Archive for 'motherhood'

Alexandria Peary — Three Poems

 

(Fertility)
            After Follain

Flecked with darkness
a piece of fruit
not quite a peach
tumbles over
the quiet part of the town
like a yellow hem
a list goes up
the side of a room
it wakens a tiny woman
with spring-green eyes
and four flowers
on her pillow,
two tropical
two from local fields.
A small black
and white window rolls
around the re
volving fruit,
tiny news printed
on it like a receipt
and a photo
of the woman at the end
of a gangway
holding a lake
by its handle,
holding her family
with the lake.

 

Oh, Massachusetts

I pick up the border
of Massachusetts—and drop it
I twang, twang, twang it,
the wavy line, the magnetic line
the ins and outs of it
that make a profile,
inlets and vestibules,
estuaries and the entrance
to a McDonald’s.
After a few seconds,
the cove and a bar code
of poplar trees stop moving.
I pick up the border
of Massachusetts—and drop it
I thrum, thrum, thrum it,
the lyric mile,
poetic lines like peninsulas, jetties, long reaches, sand bars in octometer, calcified prose
with revolving towns,
bead cities
shiny with information
& after miles of generalities
the door knob to the women’s restroom in a Starbucks,
the wicker mail box in the lobby
15 Arlington, Apartment 27.
I pick up Route 3, a junction,
and Walnut Path and drop them drop them,
and the end of the line
ekes out fife music,
murmur of the militia,
construction sounds of the new museum
wing, then falls silent.
While the heron on one leg in the bay
like a swizzler stick
like a lawn flamingo in Leominster
watches, the border slams
the ground one more time,
making the granite floor
in the baby’s room rattle,
I could break the prose across my knee
and make a 3-lined shelf
for the state bird, flower, tree,
the Mayflower, I-Max, and the brick factories,
but I strum, I strum,
strum, strum it,
and a yellow river
dribbles down my chest
—a passing lane
of crèche paper, party streamer
from the jade cave:
I am only a mile from my heart.

 

Rattle

Here comes the rattling part of the poem.
Pom-pom poem poem, silver balls
Silver balls along a line that’s being transported

Poem-poms on a dusty royal canopy bed
that’s being moved to another epoch in the building,
to a dove-colored room with egg-shell blue chairs.

Here comes the rattling part of a sentence,
and the fringe on a landscape, border around rhythmic rooms,
people in the hem. Grasp the ornate handle,

the great swish, slash lines of movement.
Tree tones, river tones, silver mountain tone,
Cedar waxwing, grosbeak, sea gull,

the curator’s cell phone has dropped onto the ancient bedspread.
Subject, verb, backslash, the underlined places in the room.
Here comes the rattling part of the sentence,

the underlined second half knocking into each other
like people in italics on a flat bed truck,
past crushed velvet crops, sunflowers.

Here comes the rattle of a sentence.
Two paper plates stapled together, put molars or dried corn inside
& hold up with an arts & crafts popsicle stick.

To make a Happy Face, drop in the beads of two thoughts,
swish it around, tilt head like shaking out water,
let them chase each other down tunnels

and chambers, poem-poems on the way to a labyrinth,
past the emergency room and the laundry room.
Tears stream down the sunflower. Saying goodbye to

stop signs it passes on a rattling truck.

 

Alexandria Peary is the author of Fall Foliage Called Bathers & Dancers and Lid to the Shadow and co-author of Creative Writing Studies: A Guide to Its Pedagogies (forthcoming). Her poems have recently appeared in The Denver Quarterly, New American Writing, and The Gettysburg Review. She is an associate professor in the English Department at Salem State University and runs a Mindful Writing Blog: http://alexandriapeary.blogspot.com.

Excerpts from This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge by Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores

A Longer Transition

When I awoke, in a clean quiet room in ICU several hours later, nurses and doctors were coming into the room, asking me questions, making sure I was “out of the woods.”  The doctors told me that they stitched up my uterus “like a pot-roast.”  I asked Danny what had happened.  He smiled tiredly and didn’t tell me immediately.  When he did, I didn’t believe him.  Apparently, when I was delivering the afterbirth, because of the way the placenta was attached, it ripped away a part of the wall of the uterus (placenta ecrita).  I bled profusely.  I lost 80% of my blood supply and received 8 liters of transfusions.  Danny told me how terrified he was.  “They asked if you had advanced directives.”  Despite being quite familiar with such things from my hospice work, I hadn’t realized I would need these things before giving birth.  The line between birth and death is indeed quite thin.  “You were hooked up with all sorts of tubes to a respirator.  I was coaching you to breathe,”  Danny explained.

In my woozy state, it felt like the Akeda story in reverse, the story in Genesis in which Abraham receives a command to sacrifice his son Isaac, but is then spared from committing the awful deed at the last minute by an intervening angel.  I had vowed to do whatever God wanted of me in exchange for a child.  But at the last minute, the angels took pity and spared my life.

The nurse brought Sophie in.  She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was devastated that she’d had to spend her first hours apart from me, deprived of a proper early attachment period.  She lay in a little glass-walled basinet near my hospital bed.  I loved watching her.  I also, frankly, loved when the nurses took her to the nursery to let me rest.  What would happen when it was time to go home?  Who would take care of her?  Where in the world was her mother?  . . .  Oh, yeah.

I’ve since thought about how wonderful it would be if there were a system similar to and as widespread as hospice, a care team who would come to the home to help care for the newborn as well as giving support to the parents.  True, there are postpartum doulas, whose job it is to support new parents and help with the baby, but they are not widely used (most people have probably not heard of such people —I hadn’t).  And they are not currently reimbursable by insurance.  Surely, this vulnerable postpartum period is similar to the vulnerability prior to a death: a time when all of the emotional resources of the family are challenged.  Research by Drs. John and Julie Gottman suggests that 2/3 of marriages suffer due to the stress that accompanies a new birth.  Divorce rates skyrocket in the first year after a child is born.  What a wonderful beginning it would be for new families to receive homecare after a birth.  How much it might help to prevent postpartum depression, child abuse and domestic violence, as well as lowering divorce rates. Continue reading ‘Excerpts from This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge by Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores’

An Interview with Fertile Source Guest Poetry Editor Kate Bolton Bonnici

Kate Bolton Bonnici and familyEditor’s Note:

The Fertile Source is proud to announce Kate Bolton Bonnici as our first Guest Poetry Editor for the coming year. We first met Kate in our Poetry of Motherhood class (offered last spring, through our sister site, Mother, Writer, Mentor). Both Jessica and I were moved to hear that the sort of gritty, honest, grappling poems we publish at The Fertile Source had, over time, provided solace and inspiration as Kate faced her own challenges with mothering while writing.

As a result of Kate’s vibrancy, enthusiasm, and level of engagement with poetry (both her own and that of others), we realized we wanted to keep working with her. A graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law, Kate writes poetry that speaks for itself (read five of her poems here). Starting September 1, 2012, please send poetry submissions to kate [@] catalystbookpress [dot] com.

Welcome, Kate! –Tania Pryputniewicz (Managing Poetry Editor, focusing now on role as Art Editor; send art submissions to tania [@] catalystbookpress [dot] com.)

Robbery” tenderly charts a fragility between husband and wife, both partners attempting to stay connected while parenting (scrapping for time together, time apart—the need for time apart landing in this poem more squarely with the wife). Can you talk to us about the emotional landscape of the poem and the process of writing it?

“Robbery” was my attempt to explore the complex space between parents after the birth of their children, the ways their relationship to each other has changed, their understanding of self has changed. They are new people now — overwhelmed, physically and emotionally exhausted, in love with their children, tired of their children, frantic for time together and time apart. I think of it as treading water in an impossibly beautiful sea.

Parenting the children you love creates a remarkable place, but you still must keep your head afloat; it’s hard to reach out for your adult partner when you’re so busy flapping and kicking and taking big gulps of air. Sometimes you remember to lie back, float, look up at the turtle-shaped bits of clouds, and it’s a nice time to reach over, hold hands. Of course, that’s usually when the other one is stuck in his own treading-water thing, and he can’t hear you pointing out that your funny turtle-cloud just morphed into a pink dinosaur.

Our children have deepened my relationship to my own husband; we are fused together now in a profound way. That said, it is so easy to miss each other in the clamoring chaos of daily demands — including the demand for separate space and time for the self.

A quiet grace emanates from your poem, “Morning, Los Angeles,” from the opening admission, “Two now reach for me, want to hold / more than I can give,” which sets the stage—adds a simple poignancy to a line halfway through that reads, “My mother went for a run / and didn’t return.” Where in the drafts of writing the poem did the mother of the narrator enter the poem?

The narrator’s mother entered this poem in the first draft, but I’m not entirely sure where she originated from — one of the mysteries of the imagination or the unconscious, I guess. I set out to write about obsession and, as the mother of two young children (the younger being very young at the time this poem was written), what emerged was not autobiographical or historical truth, but two things, really — an emotional truth (the utterly consuming feeling of having “two now reach for me”) and a need to stretch this feeling to its most painful outcome, abandonment. In the poem, the narrator walks through her own mothering experience under the weight of this loss. It lurks, this pain, this temptation.

“Blood lines” picks up the narrative thread of mother haunting, examining in part how in becoming a mother oneself, memories of one’s own mother resurrect, reappear on a cellular level, here along the axis of “torn perineum.” How did you arrive at that amazing final image of that narrator’s mother’s birth-ravaged body, “holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end- / over-end down the street”?

The narrator’s mother in “Blood Lines” did not appear until significantly far into the revision process. Earlier versions of the poem were purely a communion between mother and child, but somewhere along the way, I knew I needed to get more precise about the pleasure-pain tension one feels after birth, even a peaceful one, but especially if you have experienced tearing or an episiotomy. (I remember first hearing about episiotomies from my mother and being horrified at the notion. How barbaric! Then, contrary to my wishes, I had one with my first birth. During the birth of my second child, I had some tearing, but the dear midwife who sewed me up was so gentle, just as she was throughout the birth. Her soothing voice set me on a different course of healing.)

When I wrote this poem, I had in my mind the image of a quilt, of the literal lines woven by perineal stitches, the way my birth marked my mother’s body in this specific, physical way, the way the birth of my daughters did the same for me. This was the image I kept coming back to, and it led to the memory of new mothers taking their first steps after birth, the timid, ginger putting of one foot in front of the other, after your body has gone through the all-consuming process of birthing a separate being.

More, that fuzzy period just after birth felt like the first time I’d really understood my own mother, an honest glimpse into her experience. She was also there with me during the delivery of my first child, rubbing my calf, and would have been there for the second, except I needed her to do the important work of watching my firstborn.

In “My Former Object of Everything,” you take the risk to bare the push and pull all mothers (who have more than one child) learn to withstand: dual love for the firstborn and intense frustration aimed at that firstborn when the second child comes along and that firstborn does what he/she does best: clamor for attention, etc. How did you arrive at your final draft? Are there other tensions (for mothers or fathers) you have yet to see explored in poetry that either you wish to explore or you’d like to see others exploring in poetry?

In my line of work (work away from writing, that is), I see tremendous pain in family relationships, families that are deeply splintered and broken, often wounded beyond repair. I think this experience underlies some of my writing about family. It sneaks up and darkens the world of the poem I’m creating.

That said, I was blindsided by the difficulty of caring for two children. I was blindsided by how draining the first child’s great need would be and how the strength of my connection with the baby would create unexpected tension. As with the other pieces in this group, I wanted to take my emotional experience and run with it into a poem, moving away from the literal and autobiographical into a new poetic space, one that would, I hoped, illuminate what hides at the fringes of the self.

Of all the poems in this submission, this poem most grew and shrunk over the course of the writing-revising process. With each draft, it expanded and compressed, expanded and compressed, until finding its current state.

I am fascinated by (and a little afraid of) missed connections between people, and the anger and frustration generated when we cannot connect. The theme of missed connections threads through all of these poems, I think, as I struggle to understand the realities of family life. With each poem, I try to write what is hard, what gives me pause, what makes me worry. When I feel myself retreating, questioning, looking over my shoulder, I think, there, there it is, write that! Some days I am brave — I write. Other days, I put down my pen. Fix another cup of coffee. Put away toys or turn up the radio. I don’t listen. When I write, I’m trying to listen, to be willing to explore the fullness of a moment, in all its mystery, glory, fear, dullness, uncertainty. I’m trying to push this further, to be braver, to write it all.

Can you talk to us about your relationship to writing, before and after the birth of your children?

Midway along my pregnancy with my second child, I felt a strong need to start writing poetry, after spending my entire writing life focused on fiction and creative nonfiction. It was quite a shift, but a necessary one for me. I’ve written poetry almost exclusively for the past year and a half. There are days when I write less because of my children. Then, there are days when I connect more intensely than ever to my writing and feel ravenous for it — in part because of my children. Plus, they give me tons of material. Joy and suffering and the gritty beauty of the everyday — it’s all there in the relationship with and experience of children.

How does poetry figure, if it does, in your professional life as a lawyer?

I’ve struggled with answering this question, and I think the answer is that there is a complex relationship between my lawyering and my creative writing. Stripped to their most fundamental cores, words and narrative are central to both fields. I am more precise in my legal writing because of my work as a poet. I edit my legal work on a micro level; words matter desperately in law as in poetry. And good, honest storytelling is just as necessary. Each side in a lawsuit must tell their story their way; the lawyer is there to help facilitate that process.

The tougher, but equally necessary, answer to this question is to consider the way my career as a lawyer influences my poetry. I practice primarily in the areas of criminal defense and family law, two deeply rewarding, deeply important (in the sense of fundamental rights and basic justice and all that good stuff), but deeply difficult fields. Frankly, no one seeks out my help unless their life is falling apart. The substance can get morbidly dark indeed, and I am witness to tremendous sadness and personal anguish as a matter of course. I think the experience of standing near the unfolding of intense, traumatic episodes in the lives of others has challenged and changed my writing.

How do you find time to work, to write, to parent, to tend to a marriage?

Ah, this is the question, isn’t it? In fits and spurts, frantically, often poorly and with bursts of goodness and delirious devotion. Seriously, as we all experience, every day is a struggle. Every day something gets shut out or forgotten or plainly rejected. (Today that thing was a balanced meal. Sometimes cereal will have to do.) I try to write daily or at least most days, and I consider time spent revising to be time spent writing. I often write late at night snuggled up next to a sleeping baby. I also run, reaching a nice, meditative place where I can work on ongoing poems or construct new ones.

I am thankful for my mother, my role model, and I am grateful to my husband, for truly getting it. Some days when my older daughter pretends she’s a grown up, she says she’s a mother and a lawyer and, oh, she must go write a poem! On those days I think I’m doing okay.

Any special poems or writing mentors you wish to share with our readers?

My aunt, Patricia Foster, has been my lifelong writing mentor — patiently reading my stories and poems (going all the way back to elementary school rhyme schemes and princess illustrations), feeding me a steady stream of new books for as long as I can remember, providing a template for the writers’ life, and crafting so many lovely sentences for me to soak in and learn from. Her novel, Girl from Soldier Creek, is forthcoming in October.

There are so many poets whose work I admire deeply — Beth Ann Fennelly, Natasha Trethewey, Mary Oliver, Laura Kasischke, James Galvin, just to name a few.

I just finished reading Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Exquisite, haunting, and yet breathing with little gusts of joy.

Five Poems by Kate Bolton Bonnici

ROBBERY

The children sleep, closed
faces warm and lush,
round fruits. I leave them
curled in blankets to curl
around my computer
or The New Yorker.

My husband asks me to sit with him
on the sofa. I see too late

he meant to be kind.

His voice held something
warm and timid, an offering
gone now. He licks
his hurt by saying
I’ve abandoned us.

I didn’t mean to bruise the pear.
My thumb pressed
heavy

into milky green flesh.
We flush with misread wants.

I race to catch the only scrap
of self I can still see.
It shudders away, thin
paper napkin tossed
along the freeway. I run,
breathing too fast to tell him

I’m lost.

MORNING, LOS ANGELES

Two now reach for me, want to hold
more than I can give. We stroll into clusters
of flies. Their hard, green bodies pop
against my face. My older daughter shouts,
“Shoo, fly!” I wave a pocket
of purring wings. The baby in my arms
nudges my chest, wanting. A white truck drives
past, radio loud enough to vibrate
my shoulders. I taste it in my throat,
chew on the squall of voices
and potholes. My mother went for a run
and didn’t return. She wrote a letter
from Phoenix of birds rising black
in the desert. Above us, a gold-throated
hummingbird shivers, suspended
like the dime-store Christmas ornament
on my father’s tree, glitter-sweet angel
spinning.

BLOOD LINES

Daughter, we are floating.

Your fingers whisper. Somewhere my mother jerks awake. On the yellow couch. Beside the kitchen counter. She remembers her name. You sleep with one new hand on my chest, asking for my breath. We have only just met, but you curl into me. Your lips flutter and click, nursing through our sleep.

Beneath us, Los Angeles. Lights shudder like the trilling mouths of birds. In the old place, robins swarmed South, draping an orange net over the yard and yanking berries from the hedge. Our front walk graffitied with their purple-berry shit.

I bled when you were born. Your sweet, bulging body pressed through me with all I’d rejected. An emptying. The sound of my groaning brought you caked-white, mouth searching, blue cord heaving between us: I offered up everything. When it was time for me to stand, I couldn’t, and we waited a little longer in the space of your first being.

Morning emerges now, dust fizzing on the plastic, half-closed blinds. You wake with startled arms, a beetle on her back, belly warm. You need to press your cheek to my cheek, mouth open to my neck. Breath smudged with milk.

I lie with you on the crackling chuck pad, aching where your body opened up mine to be born, sacred space stitched pink. I once wove these lines upon my mother. For days after she shuffled close-legged, torn perineum, holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end-

over-end down the street.

MY FORMER OBJECT OF EVERYTHING

You tore me as you emerged a formed
person, saying masquerades, gorgeous birds
dissolve, we have strings for our antiquities
.

I forget that you are so young, that you were only
just born, in the scheme of things. I can’t stop saying
what you will remember years later to your daughter,
words frothing like yellow-jackets in the black oak,
their flashing bodies hard pebbles, stinging,
stinging into death.

You are three: Don’t hit me.
I could. I almost do. You know this before me.
Between us, the baby you once were nurses,
her mouth noisy and pleased.

You hold one hand on your hip, a painted tambourine
in the other, purple plastic heels rattling too big on your feet.
My name is Linda, smiling a thin-mouthed secret:
I am a mother too.

The baby mumbles. You play the bright tambourine.
See, I’m laughing! Don’t you see?
The tambourine chatters and skates like branches scraping
the tin roof of the barn where I hid, a sound

large enough to blanket the missing earth beneath us,
loud enough to soften
our fall.

I CAN’T REMEMBER SLEEPING ALONE

From the time you slid out with all that blood and feces,
you began to leave me. I began to leave you.

You clutch my necklace, my thumb, my nipple. A strand
of my hair loops around your ear. Outside, a green truck

heaves past. Our walls shiver. I lay you in the little-used
brown bassinet. Your cry leaps out, a coiled and trembling

deer. I wait too long to answer, air clotted like my grandmother’s
gelatin salads, tender boiled bones, my arms lost, sockets

aching, unable to reach for you again. Under the weight
of your sound I am quiet; I don’t tell everything. Dark words

skulk, broken-eyed, waiting. Some days omission
is the best love I can give.

Kate Bolton Bonnici is a writer, mother, and lawyer living with her family in Los Angeles. Kate is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law. She is originally from rural Alabama.

Balancing Eco-Feminism, Motherhood, Anxiety and Writerdom: An Interview with Kenna Lee

Kenna Lee HeadshotWhere/when did you find support for your writing and the dilemmas you outline in “A million tiny things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate”–read excerpt on The Fertile Source here— (the tension between one’s ideal eco-choices and practicality: ie., jumping in the roomy mini-van with AC vs. the tiny hybrid where flying elbows make better contact and a far more stressed out mother at the wheel)?

Here I have to give full credit to my ex (my wife, The Pragmatist, in the book; we got divorced just after the narrative ends). She is a dancer and we had always made her pursuit of her art a high priority in our life choices; when I began writing after our daughter was born, she was very encouraging of my need to pursue my own creativity. So she allowed me the time, when we could find it (that eternal caveat), to get a lot of the initial writing done.

The end result of your observations often drew a laugh from me as I read, for the candor, for the all-too-familiar equations and resultant equivocations you managed to nail. How did you come by the humor?

Honestly, I think I was in a state of extremely heightened anxiety, as the crumbling state of my marriage added to all the (very real) eco-concerns I talk about in the book. I was sublimating that other life anxiety into the environmental stuff, so it was really pretty extreme. And that kind of crazy anxiety is… well, funny, when you cop to it (and even funnier when you exaggerate it). I find humor in glimpsing the dark edges of life, when they aren’t sucking me all the way over the edge. So the book tries to ride that line.

Once my ex really took off and the anxiety slid into real depression, I was scared that taking antidepressants would take away too much anxiety and make me unable to write. I get all earnest and that’s just so… earnest (i.e. boring). Of course, once I realized that crying constantly wasn’t really helping me find the humor in life either, I caved. Thank god. My next book will be about getting off those pills, and the humor is in that story too, but it sure is harder to draw out.

I loved the way you gave “personality profile” names for your children that weren’t their actual names: Bright Eyes, the Percussionist, Mowgli. How did you navigate writing about your children, thinking about them reading the book later, etc.?

I definitely want to preserve my kids’ privacy as much as I can, within the larger template of broadcasting the details of their lives to the whole world. I want them to feel in control of their own life narrative, so renaming them as characters allows both them and other people to perceive a little distance between my actual real-life kids and their book selves. I don’t post photos of their faces and you can’t tag me in photos on Facebook (unless they ONCE AGAIN changed all my default settings when I wasn’t paying attention) because people will tag my name with a photo of my child and I just don’t like having their images attached to any real name. It’s perhaps my Luddite side, or maybe I’m a closet libertarian, but I want them to make their own conscious choices about exposure and privacy. As long as I can write whatever I want to write. So, the names, I feel, both illuminate the kids and obscure them a bit. (They love them, too, especially Mowgli.)

How did you balance motherhood, working, and writing? Any words of advice for writing mothers?

Yikes. I hate that I’m about to say this, but, well, I’m just too lame to come up with something more original and it’s actually true (if unbearably trite): my word of advice is “balance.” I have to continually rearticulate my priorities to myself and others, so I can remember that for me (and I know this isn’t the right order for everyone), the kids come first, my nursing career second, and the writing is third. Which is not to say that I haven’t thrown our lives into complete chaos for the last few months so I could bring this book into the world; it’s just that if getting the next marketing task done would mean I’m not available to help with homework, it’s the marketing task that doesn’t get done.

And I’m way behind on my blogging, but I’m going on a bunch of field trips this spring that are taking me far from my laptop. For me, having clear priorities lets me deal with the day-to-day when I’m feeling like I should be doing lots more to give the book its wings, and instead I’m playing catch. I interviewed one publicist and when I got off the phone with her, I just KNEW that she would make me a famous writer, but I also knew I would have about ten stress-related health conditions when we got there. So I hired a more low-key consultant who helps me but who doesn’t really understand Twitter any better than I do, which is just fine, since she takes pressure off of me instead of adding it on.

That all said, if I had it to do over, I would have taken a leave of absence from work for a couple of months (if I could have afforded it) and filled my deep freeze with easy meals or frozen pizza and hired a housekeeper and an assistant. The book launch is not the time to be pinching pennies—it’s more of a break open that piggybank and give it all you’ve got moment.

When in your process of writing the book did you realize you were writing a book? How long from start to finish and what were you the most surprised to learn as you went through the process?

Let’s see, the youngest was born just as I turned 38, and I started writing a few weeks later. It was on my 40th birthday that I admitted to myself and a few of my closest friends that I wanted to turn it into a book. And the book launched the week of my 44th birthday, as the “baby” turned 6. There were several non-productive post-divorce depression months and almost a year of waiting for my editor to have time to get to my manuscript (my brilliant and wonderful all superlative editor—it was worth the delay). Most surprising to me was simply that I was actually doing it—I barely even finished any of my college papers. So I was pretty thrilled to see myself having matured enough to follow such a big project through to completion.

In your Q and A session in Sebastopol at Copperfield’s last week, you mentioned that this book chronicles a very specific time in your life when the tighter domestic orbit of the household with three children underfoot heightened a sense of helplessness and anxiety about the world the children would inherit. You mentioned a current book project as well as an action-oriented blog. Would you share that blog link with us and talk a bit about how A million tiny things propelled you towards your second book project and your current philosophies?

Um, I also think I said I hate blogging and am not very good at it (reference above where I say I’m behind). But I do it, some. Here are the links: A million tiny things and A School Garden Year

The Million Tiny Things blog follows my meandering thoughts in general about parenting, the environment, activism (check last August’s posts for my arrest photos), and sustainability in all the various senses of the word. The school garden blog was really intended to connect parents to our school garden program and what we do there, but that’s the blog which will inform the next book as it will be about how all those moments of composting and craziness are what pulled me back into the land of the living.

As for the change in my focus, writing A Million Tiny Things helped me articulate and observe that particular batch of anxieties, and then not have to hold them so tightly. I also think it’s a natural evolution for mothers to emerge into a wider sphere as their children do, so I think it’s just a normal progression for me to be more focused on the bigger picture now. Systemic solutions, ho!

But on the way to the larger picture, I need to stop and look at the process of grieving and pain that has led me there. The first book was written as an act of service to other moms who might be feeling crazy like me and could use some company in that craziness. Then, when I was getting divorced, I immersed myself in other people’s divorce narratives as means of finding that kind of company for myself. I hope to offer my story into that library of healing possibilities; how we can connect our hopes for the earth and our children with our hopes for ourselves in a very concrete way. So some other mom who is bereft and suicidal can feel she’s not alone there, and that there’s a way out.

Any mentors you wish to share with us, or suggestions for further reading?

Oooh, yes. I adore Laurie Wagner, who teaches in-person in the Bay Area and also online. When I was just dipping my toe in the water of the writing thing, she had me write a list of what I wanted to write about, and that list could probably serve as a table of contents for the book. That reminds me, I need to get in touch with her as I think her particular style of pushing you into the truth of your story will be essential to getting me past the initial difficulties of writing a book about depression. Her site: 27 powers.

And for writing about motherhood and the environment, Sandra Steingraber’s Raising Elijah is my favorite. She doesn’t fritter away her energy on non-productive anxiety like I do.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Mole’s Hill Press, 2012) is available now through your local independent bookseller; for more information, visit her website.

April, An Excerpt from A Million Tiny Things by Kenna Lee

a million tiny things by Kenna LeeEditor’s Note: I met Kenna Lee when our children attended the same school for a stint, and “met” her again online, impressed not only with the quality of her writing, but impressed that she was working, midwiving, and mothering three children, all while “blogging to booking.” Having chosen “April” to run (pulled in by this birth chapter’s beautiful blend of the forthright and the lyrical), I realized this excerpt happens to be missing the eco-query that dominates the majority of Lee’s book.

By eco-query I mean the kind of contortions one goes through in one’s mind with children in utero, on hip, underfoot and the future (theirs) suddenly matters, as do the choices we make as consumers: wooden toys? recycled plastic? cars that run on veggie oil? worth the choir of fighting that goes on in a smaller hybrid vs. the notorious mini-van with AC?! Lee tracks these interior monologues and more, by turns relentless and hilarious, in A Million Tiny Things. I still, however, stand behind this lovely chapter as well. Enjoy.–Tania Pryputniewicz

 

Year One, April                                                                     By Kenna Lee

Bright Eye’s roses are blooming, bringing the first year of her life full circle. No, they’re not on the rose bush we planted over her homebirthed placenta, California hippie-style, because said placenta is tucked half-forgotten at the back of the freezer still, languishing in typical third-child neglect. We’ll plant it someday, when we remember, when we muster up some of those elusive items that such tasks require, namely time and energy.

No, Bright Eye’s roses have come to be called that because they were blooming when I was in labor a year ago. These baseball-sized white popcorn roses are improbably right outside my bedroom window; improbable because our house is built onto a hillside, and so my bedroom looks out into the treetops on the downslope. This particular rosebush, in order to survive, has reached up through the canopy of trees to claim its ration of sunlight. In most locations, a sky-high rosebush would be wasted, its blossoms inaccessible to human enjoyment, and from the ground below one would never suspect the exultant profusion of blooms lurking above the tree limbs. But here is my window, from which I can almost reach out to pick them, and from here, one year ago, I pondered them for many hours as my contractions became less and less manageable.

I was reluctant to leave the bedroom when I was in labor, as it’s the room farthest from the neighbor’s house, the same neighbors that called the cops, suspecting some domestic disturbance, during my last, nightmarish labor, during which my repetitive, Psycho-worthy screams let everyone know that I was definitively not a strong, silent, capable baby-haver. This time, knowing that I lacked the self-discipline to endure the agonies of childbirth quietly, I hid out in the bedroom, encouraging The Pragmatist to distract the boys elsewhere. I paced the short feet of floorspace left between the king-sized family bed, now protected by a plastic sheet tucked beneath our least-cherished bedding, and the padded turquoise birthing tub set up hastily that morning after I woke with surreal surety, announcing, “We’re having a baby today, boys.” Within this cramped space, I paced, and stopped, and moaned, and stared at the roses.

As skeptical as I’ve always been of the idea that having a focal point would make the intense pain of contractions more manageable, it worked. Probably because I didn’t plan it and wasn’t trying to focus on something, I was just, well, staring at the roses. And of course, it only worked until I reached that “I can’t do this anymore” stage which was the secret code by which The Pragmatist knew to call the midwife, even though I had expressly forbidden midwife-calling until I was really quite farther along, having gotten very tired of having a midwife around during that first, 49-hour, self-esteem destroying labor.

But by the time the midwife showed up, I had mostly forgotten about those instructions, and about the roses as well, and was just trying to imagine how anyone anywhere is able to endure torture without immediately divulging any and all pertinent information. I knew then that I would never, ever be able to become a spy, because I would have told anything to anyone if it would have made the pain stop. I became unbearably self-pitying and bossy, to which The Pragmatist responded by announcing that if I ever had another baby, she would divorce me unless I got an epidural.

I bellowed and shrieked, and the boys, playing with our friend Rachel in the kitchen, dug out the industrial workman’s ear protectors I had bought them to prevent them from incurring early-onset hearing loss from The Percussionist’s drum set, and came dancing through the bedroom to show them off. “We’re going to Rachel’s house to sleep, mom,” they giggled in my panting breaks between the contractions, “because we are tired and you… you are TOO LOUD.”

“And it would just be too uncomfortable to wear these earphone things to bed,” The Percussionist explained.

Before they even completed the five-minute drive to Rachel’s house, we’d called them to turn around if they wanted to see the baby come out, as the baby was on the way any second. They got back just in time for Mowgli to state his preference to sleep and immediately do so, and for The Percussionist to see everyone gathered around the birthtub, watching me squatting in such a way as to prevent anyone from seeing or knowing that the head was coming out, except by the fact that I was clutching between my legs and ordering the midwife to “HELP ME BREATHE NOW.”

Once the velvet head slid out under my palm, and it was a sliding motion, though that particular verb fails to convey even a slight sense of how incredibly torturous the moment was, I sat back on my haunches and announced, “The head’s out,” somehow expecting someone to do something about it, you know, like deliver the rest of the baby. But I believe I had cowed them all into such submission that they all froze, waiting for their next order, so I shrugged with intense frustration, and thinking, “for god’s sake, MUST I do everything myself?” I pulled my daughter out of me and up into my arms.

So tiny (at 8 lb, 6 oz the smallest of the three), she nestled there, wet-warm and cheesy, head out of the water, while I suddenly shed the shattering terror of laboring and embraced the more tender terror of motherhood again. The pain behind me, I could stop fighting, lay down my arms, and surrender to the awe of her first breath of air. Not the most articulate person during times of great stress, I kept breathlessly repeating, “I’m so happy. I’m so happy,” over and over, as if I needed convincing of it.

The Pragmatist and our midwife supported me as I stood to move onto the bed for the delivery of the placenta, and I paused, towel-wrapped babe in arms, noticing with intense gratitude the treetop cascade of roses hovering just beyond the window. Even now they remind me that behind pain can lurk unfathomable beauty, just as behind the burning and fear of birthing my daughter, a great healing lay within the experience of bringing her into the world with my own hands. Something that had broken in me during my first too-long, too-scary birth was put back together by that sensation of feeling her muzzle-soft crown swell into my palm, the impossibly smooth skin bloom into her face. For days, weeks after she was born, I repeated the motion, sliding my palm over her soft hair, down her temple, and in doing so I was telling myself without even realizing it at the time: that which is broken can be healed.

It is a message she does well to bring with her, accompanied as she is by my load of eco-anxieties. Her roses are blooming again, and for her first birthday, I’ve managed to pull a few down from up high to cut for our kitchen table. On her actual birthday, as if aware that I won’t be able to remember the milestone without this coincidence, Bright Eyes takes her first reeling steps toward me, my only-yesterday newborn girl, walking. I greet this new child, this toddler, with the same words I used when I first looked into her face one year ago: “Hello, Bright Eyes. I’m so happy.” Happy, and scared shitless, but still walking forward, step by careful, brave step.

Full-time nurse, part-time environmentalist, and all-the-time mother, Kenna Lee lives in Sebastopol, California, with her three semi-feral children and several domesticated animals. Her book, A Million Tiny Things: a mother’s urgent search for hope in a changing climate (Mole’s Hill Press, 2012) is available now through your local independent bookseller; for more information, visit her website.

Read our interview with Kenna Lee: Balancing Eco-Feminism, Motherhood, Anxiety and Writerdom.

 

Accolades for This Thing Called The Future

J.L. Powers

I’m proud to take a moment to put Catalyst Book Press and Fertile Source founder and editor Jessica Powers in the limelight for recent accolades for her book, This Thing Called the Future (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011). Not only listed by Kirkus as a Best Young Adult Book of 2011, This Thing Called the Future appeared this winter on the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YLSA) 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.
Here’s what Kirkus had to say about This Thing Called The Future:
 
Set in an impoverished South African shantytown where post-Apartheid freedom is overshadowed by rampant AIDS and intractable poverty, this novel takes a loving, clear-eyed look at the clash of old and new through the experience of one appealing teenager. Khosi, 14, lives in an all-female household with her sister, Zi, and frail grandmother, Gogo, subsisting on Gogo’s pension and Mama’s salary as a teacher in the city (she comes home on weekends). Everyone in Khosi’s world is poor. Where the struggle to survive is all-consuming, family loyalty trumps community.
 
Clashes between Zulu customs and contemporary values further erode cultural ties and divide families. A scholarship student, Khosi loves science, but getting to school means dodging gangs and rapists hunting AIDS-free virgins. After a witch curses Khosi’s family and Mama falls ill, Khosi and Gogo seek aid from a traditional Zulu healer, which Mama dismisses as superstition while fear and poverty keep her from accessing modern medicine. As stresses mount, Khosi’s ancestors speak, offering her guidance. Supported by them, her family and classmate Little Man, Khosi vows to create a better future by synthesizing old and new ways, yet the obstacles she faces—some inherited, others newly acquired—are staggering. A compassionate and moving window on a harsh world. (glossary of Zulu words) /(Paranormal fiction. 12 & up).
For a closer look at Jessica’s writing process, read the interview with Jessica that we ran last year at The Fertile Source as well as an earlier interview hosted at Feral Mom, Feral Writer about her tri-part focus at that particular time as press founder, editor and author of The Confessional.
Congratulations, Jess. I’m so proud to work with you.

Jessica with Nesta (five months)

Three Poems by Tasha Cotter

A Lack of Power at the South Central Women’s Clinic

It looks like the power lines are being restored. Outside, men in hard hats dart like bats in a gray air. This time I’m not worried about my medical records or what my hypothetical political rival would leak to a hypothetical media. The man in front of me wants to know which insurance carrier is better: Humana or Anthem? There are more men than women in the office. I hate it when men are in lingerie stores, tampon aisles, and women’s clinics. It’s 2 PM on Tuesday and it’s unseasonably cold. No one wants this more than I do.

Description of a Figment and a Letter to Imagination

Where are you if not outside the enclosure?
Only figments live inside.
I am colorless and cold, I am my own figment.
–Sarah Manguso, “The Black Garden”

Small—as you would imagine.
Immaculate and white
Like a light beam of memory
Focus until I see a tiny blank
Body the size of a keyhole.
You are unspeakably clean.
So pure, I’m scared of you.
But this is where my emptiness
Goes. You are the address
I muster after sight settles down.
My body is adrift, we pace
This room. I notice someone
Faint through the wall
To wall windows.

***

I am told to be realistic by everyone but you and so I thank you and each piece

of dandelion wing I see in wind oddly departed from its weeping stalk. How does it feel released from cell—weaker parts get me down. You can’t be located biologically, but I say what about all those endless shivers and wakes that speak for themselves (loudly & within). Watch what you read: unreliable definitions cause panic. Think of the light as coming from within. Think hard on what you are.

She Shouts at the Absence

Go to a party of mothers and daughters.
It’s just that you are motherless.
As you listen to the sound of braiding hair,
As you listen to pepper jelly recipes
Don’t tear up.

Hold that bird your heart.

In the basement they are searching
Their skin tones for clues, propping
Themselves on beige furniture.
You pretend you’re fine, lightly laugh,
Accept wishes, whatever they are.

Talk like a cowgirl who has chased an animal
For days, in a lonesome expanse of burnt orange country.
The animal escaped, passed a point of no return.
Sit wondering how it happened.

(Cowgirl thought it wanted to stay).

Act like the blood that escapes
The bullet hole is not physical, not seen.
Dab it with a handkerchief of lace.

Tasha Cotter’s work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming in Booth, The Rumpus, Contrary Magazine, and elsewhere. Her fiction was recently nominated for a story South Million Writers award, and her poetry has been nominated for Best of the Net Anthology 2011. You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com.

 

 

An Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, & Mother Writer Retreats

Brittney Corrigan; Photo by Serena Davidson

Guilt Poem: Unplanned” opens with, “You didn’t want another child,” and continues to address the leap of faith mothers make each time they get pregnant—the attendant questions of sustainability: will I now also be able to nurture this new life, in addition to the one I am already nursing, raising. Can you talk to us about this dilemma, as well as the process of writing this poem?

When my sister had her first child, she described the experience of loving that child as “growing a second heart”. I think many mothers wonder, when they get pregnant for a subsequent time, how they will possibly be able to love the new child as much, or as well, as the first. For me, the fear was twofold, as my first child is on the autism spectrum. I was scared of the possibility of having another special needs child, when I was so overwhelmed by caring for the first. And I wondered, darkly, if I had a typical child, would I somehow love my first, challenging child less?

For me, these dark but nonetheless real emotions and fears are the basis for my series of parenting guilt poems. I wanted to address not the commonly discussed guilts of not wanting to play Legos for hours or feeling guilty about taking time for oneself, but rather the deeper issues of guilt that I think many parents have but are afraid or ashamed to voice. These poems are meant to open the discussion of these darker feelings of guilt, to work through them, and to come out hopeful on the other side. I have found that, even when I feel like I’m alone with these feelings, once each guilt poem is offered up to readers, I am suddenly surrounded by scores of parents saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too!”

When I read the line “this sibilant galaxy of two” (also from “Guilt Poem”) I knew we had to run your poetry—what a lovely stanza and line in particular. Can you talk about arriving at the star/constellation metaphor? Other metaphors since then you have landed on as crystallizing images regarding pregnancy and motherhood?

I tend to “gravitate” towards celestial metaphors in my work, whether the poems are about motherhood or other subject matter. I’m comfortable with the imagery of stars and constellations, and with the natural world, in general. In this particular poem, I enjoyed “breaking the rules” of not mixing metaphors by combining celestial and oceanic/tidal imagery. I feel that both metaphors capture the experience of motherhood – the regular rhythm of routines, the ebb and flow of emotions, and the concurrent fear and wonder of raising children. In my other poems about pregnancy and motherhood, I use imagery of the natural world throughout.

Here’s a question we never fail to enjoy asking at The Fertile Source: what impact has motherhood had on your writing life?

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately decided that I would write one poem each week, from 4 to 40, exploring the experience of pregnancy. I wrote weeks 4 and 5, and then the exhaustion hit. I did very little writing for the rest of my pregnancy and in the first couple years of my son’s life. It was very difficult for me to make the space in my life – both literally and emotionally – to write.

When my son received his autism diagnosis, I began to write again about my experience as his mother. Poetry then became a way for me to work through the complicated issues involved in raising and loving a special needs child.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I was lucky enough to be awarded a week long residency at Soapstone, a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast. I attended while in my second trimester, and with that renewed energy and the time away from my then 3-year old son, I worked on the autism poems as well as returning enthusiastically to the project of the week-by-week pregnancy poems.

As my children, now nearing four and eight, have grown older, I have found more and more time to return to my writing. I now greatly value any spare moment and have learned to write on demand when I have that time and to fit short writing periods into a busy schedule, since I don’t often have extended periods of time to write.

You mentioned attending the writing retreat, Soapstone. Can you tell us a bit about that retreat (we understand it is no longer running). Any reflections on that experience and words of advice to other mother writers considering escaping to writing retreats while raising children? Any other retreat venues you know of that are “mother friendly” (or what could you see retreats offering to mother writers in the future)?

Soapstone is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon that supports women writers. The organization is no longer offering residencies, but I can tell you that the time I had at the retreat was an absolute gift. I was only in residence for a week during each of my three stays, but to a mother of small children, that seemed like an eternity of time. Having a space to write in a gorgeous natural setting, removed from the routines of the everyday, was invaluable.

Many of the other writing retreats and residency programs that I know about unfortunately do not offer stays of less than two weeks; in fact most are between 1-3 months. As any mother of small children knows, leaving them for even a few days can be a hardship on the family, and nearly impossible for a single mother. I would like to see more residency programs become more “mother friendly” by offering one-week stays. Eventually, I would like to apply for a residency at Hedgebrook, another retreat for women writers, but that won’t be possible until my children are much older, since the minimum stay is two weeks.

I also think it would be wonderful if local writing organizations could offer space in their own offices for “day retreats” – space that could be rented or even offered for free to mothers who are writers to come and write for a day or a few days at a time. I know that for me, it would still be valuable to be able to write for eight dedicated hours and then return to my family in the evening.

Any poetry or writings you could recommend to our readers that you consider pivotal or influential along your own writing trajectory?

The poets I love best are Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Maxine Scates. In terms of poetry on the subject of motherhood, I could recommend the writing of Sharon Olds (very raw and honest), Jill Bialosky, and Sharon Kraus.

Any desire to talk about your own editorial role at Hyperlexia? Your most challenging moments/experiences? Your most rewarding?

While knowing or loving an individual with autism is becoming more and more common, it has been my experience that it’s hard to find literary-caliber poetry on the subject. It has been wonderful to be the poetry editor for a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the best creative writing out there on the subject of autism. I have seen some truly remarkable poetry come across my desk. If your readers are interested in excellent poems about the experience of raising a child with autism, I highly recommend the work of Barbara Crooker and Rebecca Foust, among the many other talented writers published in our journal (Hyperlexia).

What are you currently working on?

As mentioned previously, my main project these days is the series of parenting guilt poems. I am also working on a series of poems about raising a child on the autism spectrum. I have completed the series of pregnancy poems, and I would eventually like to see them published in the form of a pregnancy journal for literary-minded women. I also have a handful of completed children’s picture book manuscripts that are looking for publishers. Finally, I’m working on editing my first full-length collection of poetry, which will be released in the coming year.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

Surrogacy motherhood and class issues

“Infertility is a complicated issue, and how women deal with it is fraught with a whole series of social justice implications. Reproductive rights certainly extend to the right to have children, and yet many women with fertility issues find themselves marginalized and ignored. Infertility afflicts women of all classes, but IVF is incredibly expensive, and often requires out-of-pocket payment, making it inaccessible for many women…” From Feministe’s current blog posting, “Wombs for Rent,” that discusses the class issues involved in surrogate motherhood.




Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.