The Mother Wound: A Poem in Two Parts

This week for my writer’s group, the topic was to imagine sitting down to tea with your wisest self and giving your less wise self advice. Letter writing was encouraged, but the verse form appealed to me most, which is not surprising. Even though my strength is not poetry, poetry has always called to me — and I do not apologize (anymore)!

I performed a ritual bath and climbed in, inviting thoughts from my wisest self. I did experience some good advice about my journey. However, the thoughts that stuck with me were about the “mother wound.”

“You need to heal your mother wound,” the old wizened one said. “The mother wound must be dealt with.”

That’s an old story, for sure. I believe we all have wounds from our mother that just can’t heal in the way we would like, so we need to go back in time and reclaim our baby-selves as mothers to those little animals. Done. Long ago.

Yet, a new thought arised.

“You are the mother wound.”

I am the mother wound. Not only because I am an “actual” mother to a daughter who I will, without a doubt, wound — even though I try so hard to avoid this — but because I was born from a vagina and I have a vagina. A vagina is a hole, a hole of life, whether a body is born from it or not. “Wound” depends on how you take the violence and prejudice directed at that hole.

“So,” my wisest self said, “if you are the mother wound, how do you heal?”

That was a question that I could not answer. And so, as with all questions without clear answer, I turned to verse.

What felt most natural for me was to write out how I imagined my mother felt when she gave birth to me — and passed on her mother wound to me — and how I, I turn, experienced that wound and passed it on to my two daughters — first, one who died right before she was born, and the second who came more than ten years later.  I hope that you enjoy my draft:


Mother with Daughter, 1980

She was so meager I almost thought trivial,
creased into a crib niche
as something daubed from my loin, or tumbled
out of a laundry basket
suspended above. I skimmed
my fingers under, through her hair,
sat a palm on her chest. I was afraid to give
too much, when I felt it rise to meet me. Extra
bone and heart, full of need. When
a scrap dangled over, no matter how sparse,
her skin, thin as paper, billowed,
gathered everything up. Shed milk, beige-pearl,
broke my jaw when she hung
on my neck: a loose festoon but expectant,
though what was expected had already arrived,
as if through a hole like a portal between worlds.

Mother with Daughters, 2001 and 2012

I remembered when I held the last body,
her face not perennial, a soft rose whose season had passed.
The stem of her spine laid down in my palm,
as if she could bloom if I gave
her everything I had. The first look I took
at you lingered on your face petals,
ruddy pink-cream and so,
alive. I wrung out all
the unsuckled milk from the cloth of my breasts,
their fibers twisting against an unfolding
mouth, to keep you alive, with soul portions
of flesh to eat as cake. The husk and rind
of my body laid prostrate, a mother
wound for you — a feast of generations.

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