Here’s a Rita Dove poem that I’ve liked for a few years now. It makes me think of my mother and wonder if she ever felt this way.
by Rita Dove
The conspiracy's to make us thin.
Size threes are all the rage,
and skirts ballooning above
twinkling knees are every man-child's
Tabla rasa. No slate's that clean--
We've earned the navels sunk in
grief when the last child emptied us
of their brief interior light.
Our muscles say
We have been used.
Have you ever tried silk sheets?
I did, persuaded by postnatal dread
and a Macy's clerk to bargain
for more zip.
We couldn't hang on, slipped to
the floor and by morning the quilts
had slid off, too. Enough of guilt--
It's hard work staying cool.
Do mothers get this way universally once their children are grown and they’re not having any more babies? Is this something all mothers feel, or just the ones who define themselves as “mother”? (You know the type: the one who, at the end of the day, is nothing else but ‘mom’ and would choose to be ‘mom’ over every other single mark of identification.) It’s not a knock on women who are not this way; my own mother would probably define herself as “teacher” before “mother.” Maybe I’m wrong about that, but even so, I wonder if she ever felt this sort of empty feeling that Dove describes.
My mother slept in my old bedroom on the night I moved to college. I didn’t find this out until years has passed, and I don’t know why she didn’t tell me so when we spoke a few days later. When I left home, she never seemed to have a problem with it. She never had an overly sentimental moment of motherly affection, and I’m grateful for that. But if she was feeling “empty” enough to sleep in my bed, why did she not tell me? And a few years ago, when I was ending a call with her on the phone and accidently said “I love you” in that casual way I end calls with my wife, did she stammer through “uh… I love you too”? That lead me to think about the last time we’d said this to each other, and I honestly couldn’t remember. Needless to say, it hasn’t happened since. (And again, it’s not that I mind. I know my mother loves me. I’m just pointing out that I don’t think she’d define herself as “mother” if she were given the choice.)
It’s weird what poems can bring out. Songs are like this too, and I suppose most art forms are. I had no intention of writing anything about my mother when I sat down at the computer to post this entry, but when I read this poem, it just sort of happened. Someday I’ll write a poem that does this to someone, and then I can die happy.