"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”


“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



By Ruth Forman


why so afraid to stand up?
someone will tell you
sit down?

but here is the truth
someone will always tell you
sit down

the ones we remember
kept standing


I wear prayers like shoes

pull em on quiet each morning
take me through the uncertain day

don’t know
what might knock me off course

sit up in bed
pull on the right
then the left
before shower before teeth

my mama’s gift
to walk me through this life

she wore strong ones
the kind steady your ankles
i know
cause when her man left/ her children
gone/ her eldest son without goodbye
they the only ones keep her

i saw her
still standing

mama passed on
some things to me
ma smile   sense a discipline
subtle behind

but best she passed on
girl you go to God
and get you some good shoes
cause this life ain’t steady ground

now i don’t wear hers
you take em with you you know
but i suspect they made by the same company
pull em on each morning
first the right    then the left

best piece a dress
i got


these hips ripe plums
don’t believe

these midnight moons
made a sugar’s juice
know how to curve a line
make a knife shiver
in anticipation

these hips ripe plums
don’t believe
run yr hand long this

n tell me

God did not know what She was doing
when She
gentled her hand
in a half moon
two times
the most perfect
on earth


We do not speak. afraid
of what might happen to us

the air above our tongues
prays for us to speak. afraid
of what might happen
if we don’t

Today’s poems are from Prayers Like Shoes (Whit Press, © 2009 Ruth Forman), and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Prayers Like Shoes: Whit Press, in partnership with Hedgebrook, presents this magnificent collection of poetry from highly acclaimed writer and poet Ruth Forman. “Ruth Forman’s Prayers Like Shoes is a book you will carry with you for life, give to people you love, and turn to in times of joy and sadness. Her words are as natural as grass and air, and the stories they tell will travel from the page to your heart.” — Gloria Steinem

Ruth Forman is the author of three award-winning books: poetry collections We Are the Young Magicians (Beacon, 1993) and Renaissance, (Beacon, 1997) and children’s book, Young Cornrows Callin Out the Moon (Children’s Book Press, 2007). She is the recipient of the Barnard New Women Poets Prize, The Pen Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, The Durfee Artist Fellowship, the National Council of Teachers of English Notable Book Award, and recognition by The American Library Association. She provides writing workshops at schools and universities across the country and abroad, and has presented in forums such as the United Nations, the PBS series The United States of Poetry and National Public Radio. Ruth is a former teacher of creative writing with the University of Southern California and June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley and an eleven-year faculty member with the VONA-Voices writing program. Also an MFA graduate of the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, she frequently collaborates on film, music, dance, theatre, art and media projects. Her latest collection is Prayers Like Shoes (2009) on Whit Press. When not writing and teaching, she practices a passion for martial arts: classical Yang family style tai chi chuan, tai chi sword, bo staff and karate. Ms. Forman currently lives in Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note: Today’s feature is more than a book of poetry, it is a gift. When my father passed away I found myself more determined to go on, to function, than to break down and mourn his loss. It was a book of poems that enabled me to weep, to grieve. It is a rare book that allows you to access the real human being who dwells within you, beneath the surface of what you imagine to be your ‘real life.’ This is such a book.

On the strong recommendation of a friend I bought Prayers Like Shoes. Because time is a luxury in my life, I began reading it while waiting for the bus. By the time the bus arrived—by the time I reached the bottom of the first page—I was in tears.

I read from cover to cover, on bus and train, first on my way into the world, then on my way home again. At times I felt the Woman inside me awaken, celebrate. At times I felt inspired to speak up in the name of peace. I wondered at love, at the nature of man. Throughout—within the delicate, vibrant, intricate fabric of Forman’s weaving—my heart was so close to the surface that the tears fell when they would.

I wondered what the people on the bus thought of me with my book of poems and my well of tears, but, mostly I was inspired. I was reminded of what I love in poetry. Experience. Connectivity. Reading someone else’s words and feeling that I am not alone, that I am part of a community, of a human world. That life is beautiful and painful and hard and that it is poetry—honest, vocal, unapologetic, lived, felt, lyric poetry—that makes the living more bearable, that gives us permission to experience emotion while offering us an outlet for the same.

I chose the quote above by Gloria Steinem because, first of all, what poet is touted by Gloria Steinem?!, but also because it speaks the truth about this book. I want to give a copy to my mother, to my Sisters, to the people I love and admire who engage with poetry as I do. I will turn to this book when I want to feel, and also when I want to remember why I write poetry. I cannot imagine a greater gift than that.

Want to see more by Ruth Forman?
Ruth Forman’s Official Website
Buy Ruth Forman’s books