Motherhood

That particular summer, what fuss my heart felt
seemed felt by every gorgeous
prairie part: it bore
the sound of cottonwoods hounded by wind and pooled
like the shade in distant hillside clefts, and the grasses
                          crowding the path I walked told me
                                                    to tell myself
                                                    that when the field flowered white,
             green, and purple with sego lily, sand lily, and prairie star,
             the field and I were in love.


Who falls in love with a field? A poet. A
child. Persephone, wending
to a far corner. Me, before
I walked into a field at night
with a married man I thought was my friend.
                          A married man’s craving
                                                    for a woman
                                                    who isn’t his wife is an old
             story, but I still had yet to learn how it would hurt me
             in particular, and therein lay novelty.


You are wondering what all of this has to do with motherhood.


That night in the field, all the eggs basketed inside me
lay down with me when I lay down
next to the man who would not
be the father of my daughters, and all
the eggs turned when I turned
                          from my back to my stomach and bent
                                                    the grasses.
                                                    The summer air,
             the owls, mice, voles, rabbits, spiders, and gnats, the coyotes
             that died under cars on the black road, the dogs


and cats, the lilacs and overhanging trees, and my path
through the grasses: I carry them
like daughters. I carried part
of my daughters through them, and the memory
of the field that night keeps twisting
                          inside me like a virus
                                                    because my daughters
                                                    were with us,
             learning how a woman can be loved
             for her choicelessness.


In the days that followed, my daughters
were with us when he touched me
under the hem of my shirt, on my wrist
where my beaded bracelet turned
and clicked, when he wept, spoke of his wife
                          and the predicament
                                                    of his want.
                                                    What did I want?
             In my diary from that time
             I allowed myself no interiority, no desire


or fear. I spent my heart
naming the grasses—Junegrass, bluegrass, needle-and-thread—
instead of writing about walking into them. I told myself
I loved the field because it was too shameful
to admit I’d fallen in love with him
                          while he was trying to fuck me.
                                                    Do you hear the owls?
                                                    asked the note that he slid
             under my bedroom door one night.
             The owlets in a nearby nest shrieked


for their mother. I could hear them from my bed.
This was the moment for me in my romantic nightdress
to open the door and finally say yes
let’s listen together to the owlets, the wind tossing
cottonwood leaves, and the little foxes that drop mouthfuls
                          of lilies from their teeth to bark
                                                    at moths
                                                    behind the barn,
             but I was beginning to learn that a world
             with that much beauty could only exist


in my poetry. It was a beautiful place
where this man had power over me, and I was beginning to see
that it was ugly. As our friendship declined
into torture, the prairie grew hotter. The sun
beat down onto my forehead
                          like I was a statuette. I still confused passivity
                                                    with dignity.
                                                    I didn’t blame
             the sun: it burned me
             because it was on fire. I didn’t blame


the man: he could want me
but not want to leave his wife for me
because he had power.
On a hot afternoon, he and I walked
into the field one last time. Near brushy trees
                          we heard thrashing, breaking branches, and the chuffing
                                                    of a beast.
                                                    What makes it hard to say
             that I fell in love with this man, or that he fell in love
             with me, is what happened next:


he shoved me toward the animal we couldn’t see and fled
through the salt grass and blue flax. What we’d heard
was a deer, her pelt velvety with fear, her fawns
somewhere near, and once she pounded away and was gone
it would still take more time for me to see
                          that nobody and nothing in that place,
                                                    not the man, not
                                                    the field, not even
             the sunflower and yarrow, would take care of me
             or teach me how to care. It was too beautiful there.


Motherhood would be for me a country
of rage. I live there now,
kicking the shame of what happened to me.
Now I hate the story of how flowers bloom in the girl’s footsteps
and a stranger’s hand around her waist resembles rapture
                          before the field erases her. What
                                                    did she want?
                                                    The story never
             lets us know Persephone, what hopes
             ran through her like glitter


through a stone. This is a poem about motherhood
because now when I think of the field I imagine my daughters are there
with a man who uses their passivity to test
his power. It’s an old story: he rests his head on one
daughter’s shoulder and then on the other daughter’s shoulder.
                          He is about to make them sad
                                                    for a long time. Now
                                                    that I’m a mother
             I understand Demeter, why she walked the earth
             and devastated it.


Want to read the rest?
Please login.
New to Narrative? sign up.
It's easy and free.