On Motherhood: A Literary Journal Explores and Inspires
I have been a mother for nearly five weeks, now. It’s like being the queen of a country where I don’t know the language. It’s also the best thing ever. Ever. I wear pajama pants and breast milk all day, every day, and I can’t imagine anything better. As I type this review, tiny Madeline is in her bassinet next to me, and I think this is entirely appropriate, as The Mom Egg is all about motherhood. It’s about the bodies and minds of the women who do this gorgeous, messy thing, and I loved reading every page of it.
Some of the pieces in Vol. 10, entitled The Body, are written by mothers, and some are written about mothers. Editor Marjorie Tesser welcomes the reader: “The Mom Egg, an annual collection of poetry, fiction, creative prose, and art, publishes work by mothers about everything, and by everyone about mothers and motherhood, and is engaged in promoting and celebrating the creative force of mother artists, and in expanding opportunities for mothers, women, and artists.”
It seems to me that subjects are grouped together in this issue. Toward the beginning of the journal, there is a grouping of poems and prose about the sexual body of a mother. I am delighted by a short poem by Jacqui Morton, entitled “Body After Childbirth.”
I ovulate on day thirteen
and I know this
on that day
I can have an orgasm
while sitting in traffic
if I move the right way.
There is another subject grouping after the body pieces, and I believe the subject here is wanting. There is a short prose piece in which a boy wants his mother so desperately that he drapes himself in her clothing. There is a poem in which a girl wants to be a boy, and a poem in which a mother wants badly to be able to breastfeed her child. One of the most moving pieces is a poem in which a man wants to be pregnant: sort of the opposite of Freud’s penis envy. The poem is written by Virginia Bell, and is entitled “The Workshop.” Bell begins:
Some nights he tucks a small pillow,
a soft globe of the earth,
under his night clothes
and curls around his belly to hug
to be hugged out
from the inside.
There is a collection of pregnancy pieces in this issue, each very different and exquisitely honest. Anelie Crighton’s essay, “Pregnant with Meaning,” is just startling with its accuracy and beautiful, precise language. She begins:
Pregnancy, as experienced, is not a metaphor, but a challenge: those solid thumps to the ribcage are reminders that much as you might like to think of yourself as a brain on a stick, an intellect tethered to the complex technology that is the body, you are in fact a placental mammal. You need to work? No, you need to nap. You want to stride along like you always did, long straight steps, fast and confident? By week 30 it will be all you can do not to waddle.
Sprinkled throughout the journal are small pictures of animals and body parts, numbered as though they were pulled from a biology textbook. They are a very nice touch, reminding the reader that, aside from the emotional part of motherhood (the love, the terror, the coziness), there is the science of it—the technicality of pregnancy, birth, and the human body.
The cluster of baby and child pieces included in this issue is significant and lovely. Perhaps the piece that tugs hardest on my postpartum heartstrings is Maya Jewell Zeller’s poem, “Considering a Sister.” Zeller begins:
The other evening I considered
a sister for you. I considered this as
the snow fell and filled up the dark spaces
between each blade of grass
until beneath streetlights the lawn
was a field of gray and bright spots,
then until we could no longer see
the grass at all. Inside me an egg shifted,
I could feel it gliding
the small places of my body,
wanting to be a moon
with a tail.
There is a clutch of pieces in this issue that are difficult to read. Difficult for anyone, and almost impossible for a brand new mother, still weepy with postpartum hormones. They are about miscarriages and stillbirth. These pieces are heartbreaking and lyric. Susan Rukeyser writes a prose piece about menstruation as a monthly reminder of a terrible miscarriage. T.T. Jax writes about medically assisting the most difficult kind of procedures. Martha Kinkade’s account of a stillbirth leaves the reader breathless.
There are three instances of black-and-white photographs spread throughout this issue. The first set is by Linda Lee Ortiz Hughes Bakke. In her first photograph, a pregnant woman sits at a table, nude except for a pair of white underwear. The wall behind her is covered with newspaper and dangling yarn. The second photograph is of another woman, breasts exposed, cradling a large bird’s nest where her pregnant belly would be. The backdrop is the same as in the first photograph. The second set of photographs is by Eleanor Leonne Bennett, and both are vaguely medical, taking place in a hospital room. The procedures taking place in the photos are somewhat unclear. The third instance of photography is a single photograph of water by Joanne G. Yoshida. I am a fan of visual art in literary journals—it has the effect of shaking a reader to life after he or she has been in the reading zone for a while.
Toward the end of the journal, there is a collection of pieces about the mothers who came before us—our own mothers and our grandmothers. Tsaurah Litzky’s poem, “My Mother’s Body,” is glorious. She ends the poem:
My mother is dead thirteen years,
if I could tell you how much I miss her
it would take more words than I own,
she was ivory, alabaster, tinted with rose,
her skin silk all over, her intentions gold,
she was the summer of my childhood,
she tells me stories beneath a blossoming tree,
she has given me a feathery crown that protects me,
an invisible crown that no one can see,
she is the imagination in my hands,
the bones of my feet,
a dim memory of heat.
The Mom Egg covers so much of what it could mean to be a mother, to know a mother, or to have a mother. There is humor and sadness, elation and despair. I could not have been happier to read this journal. I read most of it with my infant in one arm, the journal in the other, and a black pen in my teeth in order to make notes. I did make notes—lots of them—and they all ended with an exclamation mark or two, a heart where appropriate, and a couple of messy stars: all reminders to read the pieces again. I’ll submit to this journal, and I would recommend that other mom writers (and writers who want to write about moms) do the same.