Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Beautiful Unnamed

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Which is more inexpressible, the beautiful or the terrifying?
—Mary Ruefle

Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
—Wallace Stevens


A mother of small children, I learned to forge
ahead to take the brunt of giant grasshoppers,

to capture inch-long centipedes
between Dixie cups to lob outside,

to pull, then pop ticks from baby scalps
before baby or bloody tick realized,

to chuck fragile daddy longlegs, apologetically,
from tents containing sleeping children,

to spray small limbs with DEET
against mosquitos that might carry virus,

to lure yellow jackets away from ice cream
to drown in sweetened drink,

(but never to cage crickets or lightning
bugs or to kill spiders). As

a woman with grown children, I have learned
to stop time: to watch a water strider

skate on liquid film; to feel a dragonfly’s
neon needle stitch me close;

to stare while a lady bug gorges
herself on aphids, freeing buds in my garden

while a caterpillar spins itself
into a gold carapace that,

at least this time, turns clear,
swelling with wet, veined, fragile wings;

to note a bee humming above a lover
and me lying in soft purple vetch.


Nine hundred thousand species of insects
have been named; thirty million more

remain nameless (their fecundity reaching
far beyond Adam’s attention span).

Eve would gladly do it: taking all
the time in the world to weave each new

name into the gauzy web of consciousness.
Naming calms, connects, comforts. I

remember being a child, rocking in pain,
hearing the threatening buzz of August locusts,

trying to soothe my unnamed dis-ease
as my father crouched

beside me, impatient to convince
that going to the doctor would not be

the death of me, though it seemed to me
to have been the obvious cause of my sister’s.

When he died, thirty years later,
in the hospital, at the very end,

the boy that he once was called
for his mother (by then many years

gone from cancer), to hold his hand, to sing
his name, perhaps to tell him once again

that he was loved and not to be afraid,
that it was safe to sleep.


So even grown children give us no
leave to die. And yet we do: shape-

shifting them into orphans who
must face, venture to touch, name

their dread, their beautiful Un-
named, to sound its unsounded depth,

to stutter its new syllables in
unfathomable tongues: even,

uneasy humans on this still
flowing, happy earth, to hold

out their arms to claim what
once so terrified.

Kathleen Dale’s poems have appeared in many journals. She was the featured poet in The Centrifugal Eye’s “Sinkhole: Drowning or Surviving-—Themes on Coping in Poetic Form” in Winter/Spring 2013, and in the anthology Malala: Poems for  Malala Yousafzai. She lives in Milwaukee, WI, with her husband. They have three grown daughters. Please visit her website for information about her chapbooks and work as a poetry mentor.

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Like. Thanks, Kathleen.
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