My Mother’s Body

“My Mother’s Body” from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time // Marie Howe

Bless my mother’s body, the first song of her beating
heart and her breathing, her voice, which I could dimly hear,

grew louder. From inside her body I heard almost every word she said.
Within that girl I drove to the store and back, her feet pressing

the pedals of the blue car, her voice, first gate to the cold sunny mornings,
rain, moonlight, snow fall, dogs . . .

Her kidneys failed, the womb where I once lived is gone.
Her young astonished body pushed me down that long corridor,

and my body hurt her, I know that—24 years old. I’m old enough
to be that girl’s mother, to smooth her hair, to look into her exultant frightened eyes,

her bedsheets stained with chocolate, her heart in constant failure.
It’s a girl, someone must have said. She must have kissed me

with her mouth, first grief, first air,
and soon I was drinking her, first food, I was eating my mother,

slumped in her wheelchair, one of my brothers pushing it,
across the snowy lawn, her eyes fixed, her face averted.

Bless this body she made, my long legs, her long arms and fingers,
our voice in my throat speaking to you now.

Walt Whitman

I call to the world to distrust the accounts of my friends, but
listen to my enemies, as I myself do,
I charge you forever reject those who would expound me, for I
cannot expound myself,
I charge that there be no theory or school founded out of me,
I charge you to leave all free, as I have left all free.”

— Walt Whitman, “Myself and Me”, On the Beach at Night Alone

Brad Aaron Modlin on the Lessons We Learn Alone

“What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade” from Everyone at This Party Has Two Names // Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
on the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

I’ve often felt like the deeper discipline of poetry is overhearing yourself say things you didn’t want to know about the world, something that actually emancipates you from this smaller self out into this larger dispensation that you actually didn’t think you deserved. So one of the things we’re most afraid of in silence is this death of the periphery, the outside concerns, the place where you’ve been building your personality and where you think you’ve been building who you are, starts to atomize and fall apart. It’s one of the basic reasons we find it difficult even just to turn the radio off or the television or not look at our gadget — is that giving over to something that’s going to actually seem as if it’s undermining you to begin with and lead to your demise. The intuition, unfortunately, is correct. You are heading toward your demise, but it’s leading towards this richer, deeper place that doesn’t get corroborated very much in our everyday outer world.”

David Whyte

W O R D S // Manuela Zammit