21 Days/21 Poems: The Mother by Gwendolyn Brooks

The theme for today’s 21 Days/21 Poems is motherhood/fatherhood/parenting.  Brace yourself, people.  This one is tough.

The Mother

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed
children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,
and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?–
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All.

Source:  Poets.org

This poem was written in the 1940s.   According to Danielle Chapman (in the Poetry magazine), ” Richard Wright begged Brooks not to publish this poem, saying that the world wasn’t ready to read about abortion. Brooks disregarded his advice and published it in her first book, A Street in Bronzeville. It is a poem of complex artistry: not merely a statement, but one of Brooks’s first truly original works. At once empathetic and lacerating in its irony, the poem presents the voice of a conflicted conscience as it attempts to rationalize the actions of the past.’

Both divides of the abortion debate, Pro-lifers (anti) and Pro-Choice (pro) have used this poem to champion their respective causes.   Other critics have said that the poem is less about abortion and more about the harsh living conditions in the 1940s and the choices that mothers and parents had to make.  However it is read, this is not a poem that lends itself to easy reading and fast interpretations.

Brooks, herself, had this to day about the poem:

“People have been playing with this poem for decades. It was first published in ’45, and some strange things have been said about it. Of course, after people have read it or listened to it. They are positive–especially the critics, who wear crowns–they are positive that they know exactly how I feel on the subject, on this controversy. I should tell you those of you who do not know this poem, that the first word in it is “abortions,” and it’s called, it has been referred to so often as “her abortion poem.” In here I believe that there is a little catalog of the qualities of motherhood. And of course you’re free to take anything else from it that you need to use. That’s one of the richnesses of poetry, that we take from the poems we read what we need.”   Source:  Titanic Operas: A Poets’ Corner of Responses to Emily Dickinson’s Legacy.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000) was an award-winning American poet.  She served as the Poet laureate of Illinois and was the first  black author to win the Pulitzer Prize.

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10 comments

  1. Wow, great poem Kinna and definitely gives a lot to think about. Interesting that it’s been used by people on both sides of the debate to try to prove their point.

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    • Isn’t it still powerful and after all these years. I think it’s way that she expresses the mother’s sense of loss that has makes it possible for it to be read as wither pro or anti. Life is a gray, I guess. I’m blown away by Gewndolyn Brooks and will do a month’s focus on her poetry.

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  2. Have a vague recollection of the name, probably from some anthology, so thank you for the reawakening of my awareness of this fabulous poet, will need to check out more, again thanks.

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  3. What she says about poetry is true and it’s something that scholars should always remember. I particularly like one of her poems, “Corners of the Curving Sky”, which is somehow linked to this, as it’s about having different points of view. It begins by saying “Our earth is round, and, among other things / That means that you and I can hold / Completely different / Points of view and both be right”.

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  4. I sometimes wonder why Gwendolyn Brooks doesn’t receive more recognition. Her work is so powerful and so truthful, and I love the fact that she was unafraid to speak her own truth. Thanks for posting this.

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    • This poem rocks and shocks even now, some 66 years after it’s publication. I think people might find her too hot to handle. I ‘m drawn to her work. Might have to post another poem of hers before the end of April :).

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