Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
In spring, the daughter blossoms

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This spring, I will turn 45. It is a nice, solid number. A number in the center of midlife. Long ago, as a young wife, still mostly defined by my role as a daughter, I wrote the following two poems:

Persephone
Surely, all of this
cannot be for me.

The wasp who flies
like a cripple,
making lines in the air.

The robin on the
green grass, always
looking down.

The cicadas in the tree
above, getting louder,
telling me to pay attention.

The hissing cry of the hawk
in the woods, where
I can't see her.

The grasshopper near the
butterfly bush, grown
so large, he just sits there.

And butterflies,
tipping into their drinks,
loveliest drunks in nature.

And further, seven heads
of green buds of roses,
with nothing to do but wait.

And more flowers I cannot name,
orange, yellow, red, and purple.

Did my mother miss me
this much, that she did all this in celebration?

~

Demeter

Yes, child, I did miss
the way your little hand
touched my neck
and I felt my breath
go into you
and we were one.
How, naked from the bath,
I would lift you up
above my head
so you could feel
how far you would grow
and we would laugh
at how long
you had to go.
How the day
you saw the snake
and thought it was a twig
you were not afraid
but blinked
when you saw its tongue
flickering.
No, child, there is no way
for you to know
how much my anger rose
at your departure,
how the womb of the world
closed.
How I cut the roses
to their core
and buried the remains
to have no reminder.
How, like the wheat,
I lay, yellow,
waiting
for knives
to cut me.
And how, when no knife came,
I rose like a bee
from the ground
and began to hover.
The breeze
in a seastorm
was not as loud
as my whine.
And just when the bronze
jars, filled with my tears,
thick as honey,
were to overflow,
the old woman came
to tell me I must spill them.
And where they flowed
would grow poppies.
Red were my poppies,
and small,
when your fruit burst
back upon the earth.
You had grown
so tall,
you could look into
my eyes
and I
into yours
and together
our tears
shone equally.
Who is to say
which is worse:
to be abandoned
by a daughter
or abducted
by a man.
May you never know both.
Oh, daughter
become mother,
I watch you
in the moon,
grow and give birth
and flow
away again.
Yes, daughter,
I missed you
this much,
that I would give
the grain and the wind,
the flowers and the rain
to your son,
born of my sorrow,
to eat.

~

The story of Demeter and Persephone is well-known. It is the story all mothers and daughters must live through as the daughter grows and learns to be her own woman.

For the mother, the separation entails loss, pain and mourning, as she comes to terms with the lack of her own power over her daughter and the consequences of her own aging. It is a wise old woman who counsels the mother at this time, telling her to "spill" the tears and honey, to let her emotions flow into something sweet of her own making.

For the daughter, the pain is the mirror face of disappointment that the mother cannot protect her from all harm and that she must learn to live with the circumstances of her life -- those that have been thrust upon her and those that have been chosen.

What is less well remembered is that Persephone becomes a mother in the underworld. She bears a son with the god of the underworld, and it is mothering itself, in addition to the pomegranate seeds that she eats, that necessitates her cyclic return to her husband and son as she negotiates her life between her alliances with her mother and her new family.

Each spring we celebrate the return of Persephone to her mother Demeter -- and the reunion between mother and daughter as the earth blossoms back to life after a long, hard winter. The seasonal nature of the story reveals the cyclical way in which we can accomplish the re-integration of the mother within us as daughters, the daughter within us as mothers.

~

My daughter is now twelve. Her body, this spring, is on the verge of blossoming. I wrote this next poem for her:

Her Body, Once Blossomed

I clean the wispy hairs on my daughter's brush
and imagine them lonely for her as I am
in the middle of the day, abandoned
in this quiet house, like brown shoes that
were worn and grown out. I hold one hair
up to the light and notice the end, breathing in
and noticing how even the smallest thing splits.

Just this morning I was thinking of the Virgin Mary
and that snake she steps upon,
and I found a lonely snake skin on
the dry hydrangea bush in my garden.
It had black and white stripes, and I
wonder at the danger and think of my daughter,
what I can leave for her, what she
might need from me once I am gone.

If I were a bottle washed up on the shore
of her body, once blossomed, I would give
her this message: the only danger in life
is the magenta inside that you try to hide.
Don't play any game, either of black or of white.
This leads to checkmate. Be you. Be all your hues.
This is not a sin. You cannot lose. You cannot lose.

~

This spring on the same day as I turn 45, these poems will join dozens of others in my new book of poems about mothering called The Pomegranate Papers. As these poems go out from me, I will be reminded that all of our creations are like children who must one day leave. And on the day that I get on the first plane for my book tour, I will remember that we women can be all three of the parts in this story over the course of our lives.

There are times we can be the mother, the one who holds and cares for the house during the daughter's growth and going away and return. We can be the wise woman, the one who counsels our friends and ourselves to hold on during the hardest seasons. And we can once again be the daughter, as we let ourselves leave so we can grow and become who we are as fully filled, blossoming, and creative women.

~

I invite you to write a poem about the mother-daughter relationship -- with its cycles of loss and reunion, and its seasons of integration and blossoming. Please email your submission to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by March 25th. Be sure to put "Birthing the Mother Writer: 3" in the subject line, include a brief bio and place the text of your poem in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your poem, if chosen for publication, may receive suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.


Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. is the author of 13 books, most recently Earth Joy Writing. The book includes writing prompts for every month of the year, plus audio meditations and video workshops. She teaches an innovative online course combining mindfulness and feminist theory for women academics called The Feminar. Cassie is currently working on a memoir about how coming out returned her to her mother and her faith.


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This brought tears to my eyes and really spoke to me as both a daughter and a mother to two daughters. It is so hard to juggle both roles at once. I will be showing this to my own mother. I loved it!
This is such a beautiful poem, oh my gosh. My daughter is young, only 16 months, but I can't wait to have such an incredible relationship with her. I really hope we can be as close as you and your daughter. So beautiful.
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