The Republic of Motherhood

A dear friend sent me this poem a few days ago, and I wanted to share it with you.

Written by poet Liz Berry, The Republic of Motherhood, recently published in Granta, is a beautifully-crafted vision of the realities of motherhood, in all its searing painful, euphoric beauty. With perfect precision she covers the simplicity of milky clothes and a lack of sleep, alongside the serious worries of post-natal depression and post-birth trauma. A lot of the writing about motherhood these days is on the one hand funny, caustic and brutally honest, and on the other sentimental, indulgent and descriptive. Berry’s poem seems to tread a unique line between the two, imagining a world where we are humbled by the power of motherhood, challenged by the trials of motherhood, and raised by up by the beauty of it.

The Republic of Motherhood

I crossed the border into the Republic of Motherhood
and found it a queendom, a wild queendom.
I handed over my clothes and took its uniform,
its dressing gown and undergarments, a cardigan
soft as a creature, smelling of birth and milk,
and I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made
but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work
in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift,
the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding.
I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets,
the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.
Then I soaked my spindled bones
in the chill municipal baths of Motherhood,
watching strands of my hair float from my fingers.
Each day I pushed my pram through freeze and blossom
down the wide boulevards of Motherhood
where poplars bent their branches to stroke my brow.
I stood with my sisters in the queues of Motherhood –
the weighing clinic, the supermarket – waiting
for Motherhood’s bureaucracies to open their doors.
As required, I stood beneath the flag of Motherhood
and opened my mouth although I did not know the anthem.
When darkness fell I pushed my pram home again,
and by lamplight wrote urgent letters of complaint
to the Department of Motherhood but received no response.
I grew sick and was healed in the hospitals of Motherhood
with their long-closed isolation wards
and narrow beds watched over by a fat moon.
The doctors were slender and efficient
and when I was well they gave me my pram again
so I could stare at the daffodils in the parks of Motherhood
while winds pierced my breasts like silver arrows.
In snowfall, I haunted Motherhood’s cemeteries,
the sweet fallen beneath my feet –
Our Lady of the Birth Trauma, Our Lady of Psychosis.
I wanted to speak to them, tell them I understood,
but the words came out scrambled, so I knelt instead
and prayed in the chapel of Motherhood, prayed
for that whole wild fucking queendom,
its sorrow, its unbearable skinless beauty,
and all the souls that were in it. I prayed and prayed
until my voice was a nightcry
and sunlight pixelated my face like a kaleidoscope.

Liz Berry’s debut collection, Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, received a Somerset Maugham Award, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Award and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2014. Black Country was chosen as a book of the year by the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Big Issue and the Morning Star. Liz’s poems have been broadcast on radio, television and recorded for the Poetry Archive. She has been a judge for major prizes including The Forward Prizes for Poetry and Foyle Young Poets. Liz works as a tutor for The Arvon Foundation, Writers’ Centre Norwich and Writing West Midlands.

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