The Mistakes Our Mothers Make
I birthed my first litter in another field like this.
From where I’d built my nest, I could see
the horizon’s edge glitter in the wet morning,
a spring rain cutting through the hard earth
and preparing it for the till.
I lay confused on my pallet of chewed grasses,
the twigs and leaves I’d crushed without knowing why,
or for what event, I prepared.
Birthing was less a miracle and more of a letting go,
the release of a knot I’d carried for months
within my belly. I didn’t understand
the small, wet shapes that glistened under the early sun –
and their first sucks of air, their little hooves
kicking, silently, scared me.
When the farmer found me with afterbirth
hanging in a long drool from my jaw,
and only two piglets remained
from the six, he knew what I’d done.
He raised the leftover babies to my breast
and neither had to fight for food.
The sow grunts softly to the litter
that slides from her now, slipping,
each a water drop from a rain-soaked leaf.
Your luck is not real luck, she sings to them.
My darlings, you will grow lousy with it.
A Woman, Addressing Doubt
“The father is bad, the mother is worse,” said Odin in disgust. “No good can ever come from the offspring of such parents.”
If you are the god of mischief, and I’m the angry ogress, your giant wife,
how do we navigate the litter of bone and muscle we create,
torn from the mortals we’ve consumed, the people we beguiled to sate
our own weird appetites? Their carcasses lay shredded, beyond revival.
Or are these strips not strips of flesh, but fabric, ripped from our victims’ clothes?
And the blood that’s spilled, just the blood that stains, and nothing more than a wash of red,
nothing a pumping heart would miss? Look: though scratched, they still walk the earth.
Perhaps we are not as lethal or as fierce as we imagined ourselves –
deadly as poetry, and only when the listener allows the wound,
asks for it, baring his heart, exposing all his weakest parts for the kill.
What a family we make: the lives that we’ve created, the multiples
housed in us both! The shapes we’ve assumed throughout the years hang like shadow
behind us, strange halos befitting the parents of such a monstrous brood.
And what luck can they have, with such an ugly mother, with such a trickster dad?
How can I tell them they aren’t bad, when I cast my face to water
and catch, in the light of the shallows, no plain of cheek that’s fixed by time,
but instead a mask as gray and yielding as clay before the fire’s heat?
How I shift! And how can I ignore or condemn your own shifting?
How can I not love our children, accursed with fangs and tails and flaws
beyond description? How can I not adore the way you play with them?
If we may be redeemed, let it be for the way you hold our daughter’s hand
when we come to judgment. Let it be for my other shape, your other wife,
who holds the cup above your face to keep the venom from eating your eyes.
Who else would do this task until the end: when the world collapses
on itself, the world our fathers and mothers built from a giant, fallen god,
and that our children will destroy for us out of loyalty, and love?
—Sarah Kain Gutowski, Center Moriches, NY