I write a lot about this topic. Even when I am not writing about this topic, I write about this topic. It is not just a topic. From my first chapbook Womb/Seed/Fruit to my most current piece in Sweet: A Literary Confection, it is one of the oldest and most-traveled topics in poetry, including mine. So when you find a poem that handles it beautifully, you pay attention.
Even though, as an adoptive mother, I never had the opportunity to breast feed, this poem by Aimee Nezhukumatahil is one of my favorites: go read. “The Latch” is from her book Lucky Fish.
I admire all of Aimee’s poems, and meeting her was a highlight of my first AWP conference this year. This one is a lesson for me in two things: in managing the space and flow of the prose poem and in using image to move the piece forward. I love the placement of the last line – it gives an almost Biblical weight to the Latch, as does the capitalization of the word. And the images? Truly original and even a little strange, but completely relatable, as in these lines:
“The bite of a baby is like a prawn claw on your calf. The blade of the unlucky axe that chopped down a jackfruit tree. A cut on your wrist from a broken glass bangle. A sunless forest snake. A mirror cut with a diamond pen.”
I have never felt the pinch of a prawn claw or been bitten by a snake, but I certainly understand the quick sharp pain of a mother who feels she has, in some way, failed and the glorious summer of the times that seem effortless. That last, hyperbolic sentence – that the Latch is the whole world – is earned.
(And goodness – this is an addition, but listen to all the hard short a sounds in that few lines – calf, axe, jackfruit, glass, bangle…you know how much I love the sounds of a poem…)
If you want to write:
1. Write a prose poem that contrasts a good and a bad experience with the same thing.
2. Take a thing you are concerned about and give it the weight of a capital letter and write a poem about it. Try Aimee’s strategy of separating the last line and perhaps even make a hyperbolic statement.