Molly Spencer: Mother-ish Poems
Because I Want to Give Them More Than the Small, Gray Stone
of my sorrow, I take them to see the traveling exhibit,
the girl with the pearl on her ear.
I say, Look—the painted ground we thought was black is green.
Because there is fence I loved once, a fence
they no longer remember, I tell them. It was shadow-boxed, silvered,
worn soft by long years of storm.
In a dream of hands folding clothes
into a suitcase, there is always a stranger
adrift in the hall. In winter
a dreamed-of house is almost as good
as a real one. Same with fire.
Because I know this, I give them a book
in which the way to save yourself is to choose
a different ending.
I leave them
to read it for themselves.
who sits on the landing
of my heart, the stairs are just another way
of saying, Shall we go down?
Of the girl we saw framed and hung
on the wall, I’m told she won’t come this way again.
Of the fence, that it falls, is falling.
These are the stores I’ve gathered for you
like tight fists
of apples, globes of fat squash.
Given time they will ripen,
grow sweet, become something
for you to get by on.
[From the forthcoming If the house by Molly Spencer. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2019 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.]
War Poem as I Nurse the Baby
On TV, the planes, the bodies falling.
The smoke of steel and bone that rose for months.
And his scarlet cry in the night, which I felt
as a sick loosening across the backs of my thighs.
The roar of fighter jets patrolling the skies
above our tidy street, and the roar
of my heart, suddenly feral, clutched
by the curve of his plum-round cheek
as he slept. I thought nothing would ever surprise me again.
Not the president saying, We’ll smoke ‘em out,
or the story of another mother crouched low
in her own house, one hand on her baby’s hot mouth.
Not the soldiers who kicked (but gently, they said)
the baby around like a ball while his mother begged
at their feet. Not the way—at the store, at the park,
in the kitchen with the news on—my milk let down
its tiny fires at the sound
of any baby crying, anywhere.
A Wooing, Outright, of My Beloved Ones
I want to believe that some things are simple: this half-glass
of water quiet on the kitchen table, holding the morning
light. From here, I name the houses on my street:
the Cape Cod with the empty nesters,
the split-level with the golden retriever pup, the house
whose family packed up and moved out last week
without a word or a for sale sign, left the porch light on.
And this house, where, beloveds, I have not cut back the lilacs
since their blooming, where I have not swept the walk,
where we are packing up to leave
again, this time not your father’s job, but your father.
I’m sorry. I won’t tell you of the desert it’s been,
but I’ll let you sleep in all summer long, leave your beds
unmade. I’ll sit with you while you page through
our wedding album asking who’s this, who’s this.
I’ll tell you it was a beautiful day, warm, November’s end.
You look happy, you’ll say. I’ll tell the truth: I was.
Look, beloveds, at the border in the night, mothers are trying
to smuggle their children to safety, crossing lines
that mean nothing and everything, danger and haven.
This is not the same, but I would do it for you—pack a bag
of the slightest things—shoes and dollar bills, water, handfuls
of almonds—strap you to my back, and walk. Instead,
I’ll buy you Coke slushies at the Dairy King every day, take you
to the movies, let you wear too-short jean shorts,
let you swear. How about this?—I’ll take you camping
at the place between two lakes. This year,
at the dune, I promise I won’t make you promise
to burn me to ash and scatter me there when I die. I won’t
tell you again the story of the Manitous—
the bears that swam the span of the lake
to save themselves from fire, the mother
who made it to shore, the cubs who didn’t, who rose up
dark as islands, far from her, across treacherous waters.
Beloved ones, I would do anything to soothe these burns
I’ve made in you. I’ll drive you clear to Southfield
for therapy, give you extra screen time, buy your gas. I’ll even
finally clear this glass of water, which was yours
and has been sitting out for days, from the table,
pour the water down the drain, wipe the rim—
the mark of your mouth there—clean.
Molly Spencer‘s recent poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, FIELD, New England Review, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner. Her collection, If the house, won the 2019 Brittingham Prize judged by Carl Phillips, and is forthcoming from University of Wisconsin Press in fall 2019. A second collection, Relic and the Plum, won the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition judged by Allison Joseph and is forthcoming from Southern Illinois University Press in fall 2020. She is a poetry editor at The Rumpus and teaches at the University of Michigan.
Find her online at www.mollyspencer.com
Author photo credit: Michelle Massey Barnes
“Among the highest and best uses of poetry, third only perhaps to the poxing of our enemies and the commemoration of our dead, is the wooing, outright, of our beloved ones.”
—Thomas Lynch, “Notes on ‘A Note on the Rapture to His True Love’”