Poem Review: Motherhood through the child’s eye

Mom! Mother! Amma! Ai! Ammi! Mummy! Maa! are the variants of the first and the most powerful word a child utters as soon as it is born. We all know why. Mother are the noblest of all beings. Their sacrifice in giving birth and nurturing their children are of untold value.

The first review of this year, 2021, where hope lies for the end of the pandemic, starts with where it all begins. Motherhood and Childhood.

Life, in particular childhood, is shaped by ingredients and incidents. Ingredients of the child come from their genetic makeup. Incidents come from the events and responses through the childhood. The formative years, in turn, shape the rest of our lives.

The most important influencers who contribute to both the incidents and ingredients are parents. They are always the participants to the first sights and sounds, food and love. In particular, mothers are the first love and parent of a child, showering their children with unconditional love. The sacrifice of their lives and priorities for their children’s upbringing are stories of unparalleled wonder.

How do these children view their mothers? As they grow up, their mother’s lives become their memories.

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”
Mitch Albom, For One More Day

These memories form the stories. Some memories morph into poems. In this review, I am happy to bring along two powerful poems of those memories, ‘I also fought’ by Adedoyin Olaleye and ‘A Chapati of Resilience’ from Parneet Kaur.

Both poems shine the light on motherhood through the protagonist’s — the child’s eye.

In the first poem, a child bemoans the death of her mother during her birth. The child sees the struggles of her mother during her birth as a fight for life. In her own unspoken words, she screams about her own fight to live, while people misunderstood her as the cause behind her mother’s demise.

In the second poem, another child from Punjab, India portrays how her character is shaped by her mother‘s tough love. Resilience, thinking and character of this child evolves under her mother’s watchful eye.

The struggles of the mothers in the poems are portrayed by their children. The children see their mothers’ struggles and paint their perspectives in these beautiful poems. Both poems reflect reality of today’s mothers, and are not utopian in any form. The verses crawl into our hearts and stir our souls.

Here we go. Our first poem of 2021!

Poem 1: I Also Fought

I also fought. Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay

It was night
It was the middle of it
Mother fought
She fought hard
I sat back
Mother cried
Tears washed her eyes
I sat back
I wished I could cry too

She screamed
I couldn’t
She trembled
I was mute

Mother held tightly to the bed post
I held strongly to the big hope
Mother! Hold still.. I’ll soon behold

Blood gushed
Chord cut
She hung faintly to fate
I clutched firmly at my fist
Prayers escaped my nostrils
She gasped
I cried
She convulsed
I thought I fought…

It was night
It was the middle of it
Mother fought
But she could not

Mother left
I was left
People wept
And felt
I made her dead

But I did not
And I thought they saw
That life is war
That I also fought

~Adedoyin Olaleye

Commentary on Poem 1:

I was torn between picturing a slightly older child witnessing child birth or a child watching its own birth — I went for the later, because of the conclusion of the poem.

Imagine a child seeing itself born, and in the process, observing her mother’s struggles and fighting the world’s partisan opinion. Poet Adedoyin Olaleye has composed this graphic and touching poem ‘ I also fought’.

It was night
It was the middle of it
Mother fought
She fought hard
I sat back
Mother cried
Tears washed her eyes
I sat back
I wished I could cry too

The scene opens like this: It is a night like no other, in the life of the mother and child. The mother is in the middle of childbirth. The pain and the effort brings tears in her eyes.

Mother fought, she fought hard’ — the repetition of ‘fought’ indicates emphasis on what the mother is going through. Then ‘ mother cried, tears washed her eyes’ — In the fight, there are emotions and efforts spilling out as tears.

The child is overwhelmed as it sees that in its own birth, her mother is struggling and fighting the pain. The child realizes that she cannot do anything, but can only wish she could cry. The child actually would have cried, but for the outside world, the cries might be the typical baby-cries. The bystanders or helpers won’t understand the child’s painful response to her mother’s struggles. More on them in due course.

She screamed
I couldn’t
She trembled
I was mute

Mother held tightly to the bed post
I held strongly to the big hope
Mother! Hold still.. I’ll soon behold

The struggle of the mother increases multifold. The pain manifests into convulsions. It is intolerable. ‘Screaming and trembling’ and ‘holding tightly to the bed post’ — the child’s mother fights hard. The child is agonized by this suffering, which is multiplying by the minute. She tries to scream, but cannot, because she is mute — her own head and body are being pushed out. She can feel her mother as she slowly sleeps through the uterus to the vaginal canal. The pushes of her mother to extricate her child, is felt by her.

Then comes a beautiful little conversation! — ‘ Mother! Hold still… I’ll soon behold’. The child, even if it cannot speak and is mute, gives hope to her mother, that she will behold this extraordinary moment in her life — her birth.

The imagination of the poet rides deep — the first of this world the child sees is the struggle of the only person she knows.

Blood gushed
Chord cut
She hung faintly to fate
I clutched firmly at my fist
Prayers escaped my nostrils
She gasped
I cried
She convulsed
I thought I fought…

The struggles increase. The midwife or the doctor cuts the chord — the umbilical chord, the last physical connect between the child and the mother, and blood gushes out. The world changes then for the yet-to-be-born child. The child starts moving away from and out of her mother.

The efforts had the mother down and out, and the balance life seeps away by the loss of blood. As the helpless onlooker, the child realizes that her mother is fighting a losing battle. She clenches her fist and prays through her nostrils.

Imagine the first breath that you take has to be a prayer. A bloody scene it is. Then her most loved person is slipping away. Then she inhales the air of this planet.

This is more than baptism by fire. This is torture by birth. An immeasurable struggle. The child ‘thinks’ she fought. Indeed, my child. Indeed, you did. But wait. There is more to come.

It was night
It was the middle of it
Mother fought
But she could not

Mother left
I was left

Finally, the end comes for the mother. The poet slides to the background, the time — it is still the middle of the night. A short period, but an eternity for the mother. The few moments are a lifetime for the child.

The mother fights but she cannot fight further. She did not give up till the end. She gave everything to get her child out of her womb into this world. She left, leaving the child alone in this world. A pervading sense of loss seeps into our mind.

The word play with ‘left’ is beautiful. A small tickle of brilliance in such a emotional and larger-than-life moment.

People wept
And felt
I made her dead

But I did not
And I thought they saw
That life is war
That I also fought

People around the child’s mother weep — weep in sorrow, condoling a death that came too soon. Then they look at the new born child. The child feels the prick of the stares that blame her for her mother’s death.

The society will never understand. But the child gives them the benefit of the doubt that makes them half less malicious than they are. The child just saw her mother fight for her life, and came into this world, fighting for her birth. So, in its short life, the child realizes that ‘life is war’. And, she also fought.

I bite my tongue and grind my teeth. My eyes are teary and my mouth dry. The effect of the short moments of her birth leaves a deep imprint on the fresh mind of the child as she sees the struggles of her mother, and her own birth, and finally the partisan views of the people around.

“If you can’t go back to your mother’s womb, you’d better learn to be a good fighter.”
Anchee Min, Red Azalea

The world is a beautiful place, but for some, it starts as a struggle. Poet Adedoyin has own our hearts with these deep, deep verses.

Poem 2: ‘A Chapati of Resilience’

My mother made me … Image by chitsu san from Pixabay

My mother made me
like a chapati,
shaped me uniformly,
sudden necessary beatings
with roller
to flatten my surface of thinking.

made me perfect
home-made solution
for everyone’s hunger.

she rose me like an aerated balloon
of resilience,
applying adequate pressure
to help me grow.

the process requires patience,
a born gift from and to mother

but little did she know,
I had intolerance of my father,
the fire in my soul,
the bubble inside my lips and
the pressure of my black wounds
would one day burst at her own hands.

Commentary on Poem 2:

How does a child become what she is today?

Let us go back to Ingredients, Incidents and Influencers. Mother is the first and the primary influencer, alright. Poet Parneet Kaur brings out how a mother shapes her child with humor and lividity, and a dash of ethnicity. Parneet Kaur is from Punjab, India. That matters.

My mother made me
like a chapati,
shaped me uniformly,
sudden necessary beatings
with roller
to flatten my surface of thinking.

Sudden necessary beatings with roller ( in picture, Image by congerdesign from Pixabay)

Punjabi mothers roll the wheat dough with a wooden roller. It is a skill that is passed on from generation to generation. The roller, beyond the rolls, is also wieldy weapon, especially when the kitchen-queens become angry. With a barrage of choicest words, the roller sends a message to those outside the kitchen, whether it is the child or the man.

The girl’s thinking - round, uniform and flat - has been shaped by the mother’s oversight, and the occasional beatings.

To flatten the surface of my thinking’ has two layers — a primary and obvious humor, and a subtle acknowledgement of her mother’s influence on her thinking. A perfect metaphor of tough love.

The beatings are ‘sudden and necessary’. Chapatis are circular dry breads, shaped after mashing and rolling. The dough’s ingredients — wheat, water and salt, result in great taste. The roller shapes the dough into perfect circular chapatis, in the most capable hands of the Punjabi mom.

Are the beatings necessary? Can they not be just words of admonition? The parenting in this part of the world has to be understood. The underlying emotion is love and concern, and not anger or inability. In large families, the women are busy cooking enormous meals to the entire families. The childcare is part of multi-tasking, and that requires quick and decisive responses to potentially quirky situations that the child is in.

Punjabi moms are as much temperamental as loving. ‘Sudden and necessary’ beatings are the outcome of the mom’s response to the situation caused by the child’s behavior.

I am shaped by my mother’s tough love too. In an instance, I lost two teeth, but gained lot of wisdom. Never repeated the mistake. The stick was never spared. The child was never spoiled.

made me perfect
home-made solution
for everyone’s hunger.

The outcome of such tough love is the conditioning ahead of the life situation that comes along the girl’s way. One way of looking at ‘ home-made solution for everyone’s hunger’ is the ability of the women to handle the problems thrown at them by the family, including cooking and childcare. In a large family, that is a humungous task.

We need to move the last stanza forward to understand the next metaphor.

but little did she know,
I had intolerance of my father,
the fire in my soul,
the bubble inside my lips and…

Under the hood of the car — the child, there are the father’s qualities. Intolerance, fieriness and a bit of haughtiness ( the bubble inside my lips). Father’s love is more mellowed and softer towards the girl child. So the copycat attitudes seep in naturally.

The girl, like her father, throws attitude at the woman of the house, the mother. The entitlement comes from being the recipient of unabashed love and care, albeit tough. The men actually fear and respect the women, for without them, they are parentless children.

she rose me like an aerated balloon
of resilience,
applying adequate pressure
to help me grow.

When the shaped and flattened chapatis cook in the tava ( the oven), they inflate due to the evaporating water bubbles trapped inside, like a balloon. The skin puffs because of the heat like an ‘aerated balloon’. The heat — a metaphor for the subtle and constant conditioning by the mother, makes the child shaped into a ‘home made solution’.

the pressure of my black wounds
would one day burst at her own hands.

The black spots are burnt parts of the skin of the chapati that burst due to the fissures created by heat. As one side is enough exposed to the heat, the chapati is turned over to the other side by the skillful hands of the mother. The skin bursts and the hot air escapes like a bursting aerated balloon.

The entitlement of a kid meets the tough love of a parent.

the process requires patience,
a born gift from and to mother

To be constantly at it, the mother can never lose patience and hope. She knows she is the last line of life for the child.

The poem, written from the child’s perspective, also brings out her maturity and self awareness, and the acknowledgement of her mother’s contribution in shaping of her character. And when her turn comes to be a mother, she would be ready.

Finally, this poem is an ode to the tough love of Punjabi mom’s who are the single most reason of creating the world’s largest ‘giving’ community, the Punjabis.

The Sikh Center of New York, in Queens Village, has served more than 145,000 free meals in the last two months, as part of their faith tradition of feeding anyone in need. Pic Courtesy: Ryan Christopher Jones for The New York Times

No one ever is hungry under the benevolence and care of a Punjabi, anywhere in the world. From New York to New Delhi, Punjabi mom’s tough love has created this culture of ‘giving and caring’, without any fuss and bias. Visit them in one of their ‘langars’, you can see the success stories.

Conclusion:

The poems are contrasting. The first poem is of child birth, and second of childhood. The first poem brings out the mother’s desperate struggles, but still teaches the child about the ‘war of life’, while the second poem brings out the mother’s long drawn battle to condition the child to make it a giver.

The similarity is the mature narrative and the deep understanding that the children share about their mother’s struggles, sacrifices and intent. Poets Adedoyin Olaleye and Parneetkaur end the poems with the social views of the children amid the contrasting tales and settings.

I leave the readers to discern and discover the poems. I am now thinking of my mother and childhood.

~Ashok Subramanian

Copyrights of ‘‘I also fought’ belong to Adedoyin Olaleye; reproduced with permission.

Copyrights ‘A Chapati of Resilience’ from Parneet Kaur; reproduced with permission.

Poet Adedoyin Olaleye:

Adedoyin Olaleye can be reached on LinkedIn. She is an Author| Creative Writer| Poet| Real Estate Consultant| Family Health Consultant.

Poet Parneet Kaur: ( Parneetkaur)

Parneet Kaur is a Digital Marketer and Content writer. She can be reached here on LinkedIn.

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Ashok Subramanian

A poetic mind. Imagines characters, plots. Loves Philosophy, Literature and Science. Poetry-Short Stories-Novels- Poetry Reviews-Book Reviews