Many poets write about the body. Or the mind. Or their mothers. But today’s poem by Robin Ekiss (from her wonderful book The Mansion of Happiness) combines the three elements in a simple and powerful way. Read the poem and then we’ll talk.
BY ROBIN EKISS
The question of my mother is on the table.
The dark box of her mind is also there,
the garden of everywhere
we used to walk together.
Among the things the body doesn’t know,
it is the dark box I return to most:
fallopian city engrained in memory,
ghost-orchid egg in the arboretum,
hinged lid forever bending back and forth —
open to me, then closed
like the petals of the paperwhite narcissus.
What would it take to make a city in me?
Dark arterial streets, neglected ovary
hard as an acorn hidden in its dark box
on the table: Mother, I am
out of my mind, spilling everywhere.
Both the yearning and the biology of motherhood are apparent in the poem – fallopian cities, ghost eggs, neglected ovaries – and the speaker seems to be mourning. (These things are in the box, but the speaker has them opened to her and then closed.) Is the mother’s “question” one about the speaker’s choices about motherhood? The title “of” is even ambiguous – is it a question about the mother or a question that the mother poses?
The thought that the inner workings of a body are a city is my favorite image in the poem. (I have even written a poem based on the line “What would it take to make a city in me?”) To imagine cities inside the body while the mind is a dark box is a juxtaposition that also intrigues.
I cannot say that I could explain, line by line, how to interpret this poem exactly, and I don’t necessarily want to do so. My own background of infertility contributes to my interpretation of this piece, while another reader may see a completely different narrative. What I can explain is my admiration for the poet’s work in this piece. There is much to admire: the parallel construction of the first two lines (which are strong enough to bear the often-overused “blank-OF-blank” metaphorical structure), the sounds in the third and fourth lines of the second stanza, the rhythmic images of the ghost-orchid egg and the petals of the paperwhite narcissus, the aching madness of the final line of direct address.
We can, as writers, tend to over-analyze and dissect in the urge to find “an answer.” This is one of my favorite poems of the past few years partly because something about it remains just out of reach, outside the frame of the photograph, waiting to be discovered.
IF YOU WANT TO WRITE:
- Try choosing three common poetry topics and addressing them slant in a single poem, as Ekiss does with body, mind and mother.
- Use “The Question of my _______________” as a title for a new poem.
- Use a sentence of direct address as the ending line of a poem.