Hero's Poetry Journey, week 6
TRIAL: Road of Trials
Hello, Poetry Friend
Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen tells us “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.” You can’t tell me he wasn’t writing about motherhood — that never-ending party that is exceptionally physical.
The Road of Trials
There will be trials on the road of motherhood. Some will feel like a test on which we can only pass or fail. There will be no obvious potty breaks in sight.
Whether or not we become mothers through pregnancy, motherhood includes much physical work to take care of these tiny ones. There is also a particular physicality to a body that does not become a mother.
Within a two-year period both of my children needed surgery. Neither was life-threatening, but both required weeks of recovery. There were restrictions. There was physical therapy. A new specialist or two. And here I was, a poet — not a physician, not even a CNA. Someone who literally feels faint at the sight of blood.
I remember standing in the bathroom with one of my children, trying to follow the nurse’s after-care instructions, crying on the phone to afriend who is a nurse, asking her to translate medical-ese to me. This was the sort of trial I did not expect when I became a mother.
I love this poem because it leans into the physicality of motherhood: sternum, belly, pelvis, clavicle, hands, mouth, hallux (had to look that one up!). When I first learned this poem by heart, I would lay my hand on each part of my body Baer describes. Inevitably a memory would surface, perhaps one that never seemed important until it rose to touch me.
I also like the Baer’s catalogue of trials. Some are small, like “milk jugs.” Some are enormous, like “their egos.” These are the things mothers carry. We carry them in our very bodies, which grow older by the hour. This road of trials never stops — it only bends.
She keeps an office in her sternum, the flat
bone in the center of her chest with all its
urgent papers, vast appointments, lists of
minor things. In her vertebrae she holds more
carnal tasks: milk jugs, rotten plants, heavy-
bottomed toddlers in all their mortal rage.
She keeps frustration in her hallux, senseless
chatter, jealous fangs, the spikes of a dinosaur’s
tail. The belly is more complicated—all heartache
and ambition. Fires and tidal waves.
In her pelvis she holds her labors, long and
slippery. In her clavicle, silent things. (Money
and power. Safety and choice. Tiny banquets of shame.)
In her hands she carries their egos, small and
flimsy. In her mouth she holds their laughter,
gentle currents, a cosmos of everything.
– Kate Baer
Read Baer’s poem. Jot down what you notice, what you like, what you don’t, what questions you have, and at least one way in which the poem speaks to your soul.
Write about the physicality of this road of trials.
Read Baer's poem aloud. Pick one phrase or line or stanza you can tuck deep in your heart.
Write your own haiku about this stage of your hero’s poetry journey. (Mine is at meganwillome.com.) If you like, email me what you write.
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