In Morph and Bloom, Wendy Wisner (author of Epicenter and the chapbook Another Place of Rocking) presents poems that capture fleeting moments, strung like beads on a line that runs between childhood and motherhood. Wisner links the poems in this collection through her attention to detail, the vivid physicality of her imagery, and the figures who recur in one poem after another: the mother, the sister, the infant son, the mother’s absent father. These characters give structure to the collection, adding an intriguing whisper of narrative that moves through the poems.
Wisner explores the similarities between being a child and being a new mother, bringing the two states together through an intense focus on the body. In “Newborn Haze,” the speaker remembers being an infant with her parents, “the three of us / half-drunk, hungry, naked, / breathing together for the first time.” In “Boy,” the roles are reversed and the speaker is now the parent:
After I’ve nursed him in the blue-black light, moons
of milk staining my shirt, after he’s let go,
lips curling shut, fists opening like night blooming flowers,
I sink into his belly, listen for that gurgled breath
Wisner compellingly evokes the bodily awareness that is central to both childhood and motherhood, and examines the ways in which a new child calls forth memories of the mother’s own childhood.
Wisner uses appealingly plain language in these poems, as in “Japanese Maple,” which begins with the lines “It will never be May again / in his fifth year of life.” Yet the simplicity is never allowed to become boring; she twists her straightforward vocabulary into unexpected images and metaphors. Occasionally, surprising bursts of slanginess add energy to the poems, as when a speaker describes her son as “a big boy / buzzing with words,” or mentions “the knifey zap of letdown.”
“I am the mother of a son who will one day die,” the speaker states in “Weaning: Burial,” and many of the most powerful poems in the collection are informed by this awareness of future loss. In “Danny, the trees are on fire,” Wisner writes:
if I don’t tell you the dream where I was walking through the health food store
searching for a certain scented oil, I will forget,
I will never find it, and if I don’t stop the car to watch the yellow, orange, red
trees circling the lake, bleeding into the water, I won’t remember
to take our son there on Tuesday before school, before fall is over and the moon
shrinks back to a sliver and his legs grow so long I can’t
hold him anymore.
The long lines hurtle across the page as rapidly as time seems to slip away from the speaker, vividly illustrating her fear of losing her grasp on these important, impermanent things.
Morph and Bloom takes its title from the poem “Christmas Eve”:
I remembered the end of childhood,
my body morphing and blooming,
how I feared my skin would break,
how it did.
These lines, in their clarity and candor, deftly encapsulate Wisner’s beautiful meditations on the physicality, vulnerability, and openness that characterize new motherhood.