with a line from Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book
I became a mother and I began to write like a Japanese woman. Which is to say: I began to write like myself. Though I did not know it until I read past the American modernists, into the imaginary from where my mother's mother—and her mother before her—came. Not all peonies and lacquered fans after all. What I don't understand is why this didn't happen earlier. In poetry school, for instance. Though I did have a teacher who, in office hours, assigned me a book of haiku to read. Though I did not read it. When I became a mother, my lines began to range farther and grow less mannered, less sculpted—and this wild, itinerant prose did not adhere to shapeliness; instead, it started and stopped as it pleased. In short, it arranged itself as it wished. It spoke of anything and everything, and as it grew it spilled from birth and the body into death and questions of beauty and of culture and my opinionated concerns about this and that. An artful, yet unruly text. There is no Mother, a man said in response to my daughter's question during a lesson about the godhead. An entire field of bodily experience—razed over, sown with salt. No wonder my skin stings all over. But there is, her small voice persisted. There is. Things that bore me: mannerly poetry. Men that discuss subjects at random. Books in which women who raise children live a certain version of life, written by another.