Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Erin Lyn Bodin’s Even In Winter. We asked, “What passions, interests, or activities do you reserve time for amidst the varied landscape of motherhood? How do they serve your personal wellbeing?” Below is Emily Patterson’s response.
The Tending of These Days
It’s mid-August. My daughter breastfeeds by the hour—screeching for more and more milk that my body struggles to make. On the phone with the lactation consultant, feeling foggy and stunned, I learn about “growth spurts.” I’m told the only thing to do is keep feeding until my body catches up with my baby’s unrelenting appetite.
When the heat eases, we walk down the alley at the end of our street, in search of reprieve. We encounter a community garden of marigolds, zinnias, and sundry vegetables—reedy tomato vines, purple kale. We wander; she in the carrier, me in a sleepy haze, until we find a patch of sunflowers swaying like beach grass in the breeze. They are taller than I am, almost protective in their boldness.
Later I will write about this day—this exhaustion, these blooms—in a poem:
Those days were for moving thin rivers
of milk from my body to yours. In the garden off the alley we found
a patch of sunflowers by accident.
They were covered in small bees.
As August slips into September, I make a point to be outdoors each day, despite the persistent heat. As I walk alone, a tentative ritual begins. I roam, cataloging images:
Acorns clog the curb. Leaves, newly golden, skid over the pavement like husks.
I gather words into lines until they become a memory. Soon I am counting syllables during a night feed; storing up phrases as I rock, dress, and sing at bedtime.
I make the days—and nights—into poetry, leaning into the sudden bursts of creativity that motherhood seems to afford both unexpectedly and often. While my daughter sleeps or spends time with her dad, I return to my scribblings and hastily typed notes to make them into something more. Sometimes they fall into place, a moment swirling into a larger reflection, affording me the clarity I crave. Other pieces remain fragmented, fitful. Yet even then, I am grateful to ground a part of the day, however small, in words. These moments will live on, amidst the shock of things that will surely go unremembered.
I make the days into poems because even though I am writing about motherhood, a sense of self that has shifted, the act of writing allows me to inhabit each day not only as a mother but as my whole self. I write to make this seemingly radical and necessary choice—one that began with a patch of sunflowers—again and again, as a way of orienting myself in early motherhood.
I make the days into poems because motherhood is so much more chaotic than I imagined, and I long for something orderly: taut phrases on a clean page. But the words themselves can be just as slippery, and much of the time I am so very tired. Still, I keep writing, with the hope that these lines might evolve, take shape.
As the months pass, I see the poems grow, change, and expand alongside my daughter. As she learns to laugh, I play with sound repetition. Too soon, I pack her tiniest clothes away, swapping onesies like I rearrange line breaks. As her coos resemble words, her language beginning to echo my own, I write poems as brief as a stretch of sleep, poems that lengthen into prose—a narrative of days, familiar and new. Perhaps this, too, is a kind of tending: of words, of myself.
Emily Patterson is a curriculum designer, poet, and mother in Columbus, Ohio. She holds a B.A. in English from Ohio Wesleyan University, where she was awarded the Marie Drennan Prize for Poetry and F.L. Hunt Prize for Most Promising Creative Writer. She received her MA in Education from Ohio State University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Mothers Always Write; Thimble Literary Magazine; Quillkeepers Press; Better Than Starbucks; Why Mums Are Amazing, edited by Hollie McNish; catheXis Northwest Press; and elsewhere.
This essay includes an excerpt of “Sunflowers,” originally published by the author in Mum Poem Press.