SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: MOTHERHOOD POETRY


"Arab Motherhood" by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.

“Arab Motherhood” by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.



Editor’s Note: In honor of Mother’s Day, I have gathered together some of my favorite poems that I’ve featured on this series over the years that consider motherhood from a plethora of perspectives, for motherhood is such a multi-faceted experience. From the perspective of the child: memories of mothers, good mothers, bad mothers, absent mothers, mothers we have lost. From the perspective of the mother, of the would-be-mother, of the once-was mother: pregnancy and childbirth, love and fear of and for our children, the kind of mother we are or are not, the kind of mother we want to be, the children we never had, the children we have lost.

Today’s selection is in honor of motherhood itself and its many faces, in honor of that imperative person without whom none of us would exist and who–for better or worse–so deeply affects who we come to be.

Today’s post is dedicated to my own mother, who has always been one of my most dedicated readers and faithful supporters, who has shaped my being from zygote through womanhood, and whose legacy as mother takes on its newest incarnation on this, my first Mother’s Day as a mother.


Mother, I’m trying
to write
a poem to you

which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I’ve wanted
to say, Mother
…but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them.

–Erin Belieu,
“Another Poem for Mothers”



MOTHERHOOD POETRY
FROM THE SATURDAY POETRY SERIES ARCHIVES:

“Elegy for a Mother, Still Living” by Elana Bell

“Cultiver Son Potager / Growing Vegetables” by Dara Barnat; translated by Sabine Huynh

“Prayers Like Shoes” by Ruth Forman

“We Speak of August” by Valentina Gnup

State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies by Alexis Rhone Fancher

“A Poem for Women Who Don’t Want Children” by Chanel Brenner

“Baby” by Jaimie Gusman

“Psalm to Be Read While My Daughter Considers Mary” by Nicole Rollender

Hemisphere by Ellen Hagan

“Labor Pantoum” by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

“Depression” by Terri Kirby Erickson

“Dinner for the Dying” by Jen Lambert

Decency by Marcela Sulak

Little Spells by Jennifer K. Sweeney

“The Invention of Amniocentesis” by Jen Karetnick

“The Sadness of Young Mothers” by Richard D’Abate

“Mom’s Cocks” by Jenna Le

“The Balance” by Danusha Laméris

“The Committee Weighs In” by Andrea Cohen

“Mother-In-Law” by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell

“Change of Address” by Ruth Deborah Rey



Want to read more Mother’s Day poems?
Mother’s Day poetry from the Academy of American Poets
Poetry about mothers from the Academy of American Poets

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: JENNA LE

Jenna Le photo

By Jenna Le:


MOM’S COCKS

Mom grew up beside the Perfume River in Vietnam,
in a brick house overrun by chickens.
Those horny-footed fowl were always
rubbing their feather-padded genitals
against sofa legs and children’s shoes
as if they were fit to burst. Mom laughs

as she tells me how they ground
their pelvises against her leather sandal,
stuporous with misdirected lust—
How strange that she
is talking to me about sex
in this casual way. She’s returning to her roots

as a child who lived among
unmannered beasts. And I, through hearing her words,
am returning there with her: I
am the aggressive rooster; I’m the hens
cowering behind the outhouse; I’m the much-abased,
much-abraded, Size Four shoe.


THREE SHORT POEMS ON A COMMON THEME

1.

Staring at you across the room, my body seemed composed
of nothing but eyes.

Even my mouth
watered, like an eye.

2.

I couldn’t sleep a wink all night: my brain agitated its solitude
like a washing machine

filled with copies
of your immaculate white shirt.

3.

In the morning, I went out and bought a book of your poems.
It’s a poor substitute for a straightedge, it’s true,

but you won’t
sell me your curves for any price.



Today’s poems are from Six Rivers, published by NYQ Books, copyright © 2011 by Jenna Le, and appear here today with permission from the poet.


Jenna Le was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a daughter of two Vietnam War refugees. She received a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University and an M.D. from Columbia University. She has worked as a physician in Flushing, New York, and the Bronx, New York. Her full-length poetry collection, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), was a Small Press Distribution Poetry Bestseller. Her poetry, fiction, essays, book criticism, and translations of French poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Measure, Pleiades, and 32 Poems.

Editor’s Note: Lyric, narrative, accessible, and unafraid, Jenna Le’s Six Rivers opens along the banks of the Perfume River, in a scene that pairs mother with sex and “horny-footed fowl.” The relationships—between mother and daughter, between ‘here’ and ‘there’—are rich and complex, with the poet embodying her mother’s past, her roots, and the “much-abased, much-abraded, Size Four shoe.” Throughout the book love and sex, personal, familial, and cultural history, healing and death are all explored as we travel with the poet along the six rivers of her life. Le allows herself to be vulnerable and imperfect, and so we relate to her, root for her, are drawn into her vivid world. A keen seer and a captivating reporter, it is no wonder that, at times, the poet feels she is “composed of nothing but eyes.” Hungry for life, hungry for love, it is no wonder that “Even [her] mouth watered, like an eye.”

Want to read more by and about Jenna Le?
NYQ Poets
Mascara Literary Review
The Nervous Breakdown
The Toronto Quarterly
Sycamore Review