Today, three poems for the mothers who, for the last three months and counting, have shared with me the stories of the lives of their children, sometimes the whole arc of that child’s all-too-brief but always unique and beautiful life, sometimes just moments – funny, sublime, harrowing – from that child’s life right now. Cooper and Harry and Brooke and Emma and Elliott and Brielle and Desiree and Connor and Adam and Billy and Rachel and Elise and Ali and Bella and Emily and Ethan and Rachaeli. Mothers who have talked to me about how to practice self-care when your baby is dying, how to maintain your marriage when your baby is dying, and how to laugh and keep forcing hope into daily lived experience when your baby is dying. Mothers who know their children more intimately than any doctor or specialist; mothers who do not accept the dictates of any broad diagnosis but instead treat each day as unique, and their child within it. Women who have shared their most intense sorrows in emails, on the phone and in person.
No Tiger Mothers here. These are Dragon Mothers — creatures of myth and legend. Loyal. Tough. Impossible to cage. Scaly when they need to be. Raw. As persuasive and straight-talking as any trial lawyer. As flexible and creative as any top executive. Women who don’t give in to magical thinking but who work magic regardless. Women who resist suggestions to put their children in institutions. Women who will not be ignored and who will not let their children’s lives be ignored, or diminished, or passed over or forgotten. Women who remember. Women who know that love is a commitment made and re-made in the smallest moments, sometimes the ugliest ones. Ballsy and fast-talking. Contemplative and endlessly kind. Women who have looked straight into despair with one beastly eye and gone straight for it. Women breathing fire into the face of grief. Women who rage and comfort. Women who keen and howl and then get on with the business of dinner, errands, groceries, jobs, the future. Women who travel in strong, winging packs through a tangled and dangerous and dark and seemingly endless wilderness that most people would never have the guts to enter, let alone come out on the other side, scathed, yes; broken, yes; but alive, yes, even when their children have died. Badass women who are visions of beauty and strength.
Thank you, Dragon Mamas. These three poems reminded me, in so many ways, of each of you. I won’t interpret them, but will let them sing on their own. The next post, also, will be for you.
Living with it
It is nothing that they did
or could have helped, two people
falling in love. Not even
because they shared a toothbrush,
once. It is their germs
they take turns being sick
-one makes the tea, the other
answers the phone. Slowly,
they can’t tell better
This goes on
until one dies.
-Craig Arnold, from Shells
The difference between Despair
and Fear-is like the One
Between the instant of a Wreck-
And when the Wreck has been-
The mind is smooth-no Motion-
Contented as the Eye
Upon the Forehead of a Bust-
That knows – it cannot see-
[No Worst, There Is None. Pitched Past Pitch of Grief]
No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing-
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked “No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep
-Gerard Manley Hopkins