by Gwendolyn Brooks

Page 3

Thinking about Emily Dickinson, as I made up my little list of poems to offer, I said "You know, this is almost hopeless, because Emily and I are absolutely different in the details of our lives." I would like to tell you how I met Emily. We had been having for many years in our textbooks of the various schools I went to selections of Emily Dickinson's work, and I rarely cared for them. But when I was nineteen I went to the junior college library and found a collection of her work that had been discovered by that time. I was absolutely enchanted. And I began to really appreciate her way with common words and her way of putting common words together so they made new magic. But what would Emily have made out of the late sixties in which I found such help, lots of mistakes and clumsinesses, but a lot of help, too. That help helped form what I am today. So I just said I will offer her what I have to give. And if it is not a million, well, that's unfortunate or fortunate. What comes next. I decided to include "The Mother." People have been playing with this poem for decades. It was first published in '45, and some strange things have been said about it. Of course, after people have read it or listened to it. They are positive--especially the critics, who wear crowns--they are positive that they know exactly how I feel on the subject, on this controversy. I should tell you those of you who do not know this poem, that the first word in it is "abortions," and it's called, it has been referred to so often as "her abortion poem." In here I believe that there is a little catalog of the qualities of motherhood. And of course you're free to take anything else from it that you need to use. That's one of the richnesses of poetry, that we take from the poems we read what we need.

     the mother
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my
      dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your mar-
      riages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not de-
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?--
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I
      loved you

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