Study Guide

the mother Life, Consciousness, and Existence

By Gwendolyn Brooks

Life, Consciousness, and Existence

Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get, (2)

Right from the very first lines of the poem, the speaker refers to her aborted pregnancies as "children." She thus seems to suggest that they have life. Just imagine how different the poem would be if Brooks instead wrote: "You remember the fetuses you got that you did not get." The word "children" carries so much more emotional weight.

You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye. (9-10)

The speaker refers to her "mother-eye," and she imagines herself acting as a mother to real-life, breathing children. It's hard to imagine a "gobbling mother-eye" fixing itself on a fetus. The mother's fantasy of her non-existent children is intense—and embodied.

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children. (11)

Okay, now the speaker refers to her non-existent children as "killed children." Interestingly, she doesn't say that she killed them; she uses "killed" as an adjective (not a verb). And, we've gotta ask: can something be killed that was never alive? We're starting to think that the poem suggests that life begins way before birth.

I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
Your luck
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate. (14-21)

Here the speaker really ponders the lives and deaths of her non-existent children. She puts herself with the picture with the conditional "if"—if she "seized" their "lives," if she "poisoned" them. It's starting to sound like perhaps the speaker really believes that they were alive in utero.

Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried. (24-30)

Okay guys, if you were confused already, get ready for even more confusion. The speaker here is wavering and considering all of the different ways to categorize these aborted pregnancies. Then she breaks it down as simply as possible: they children had bodies, but they never lived. So, when does life begin for this "mother"? We're not sure, but we are sure that these unborn children were something more than just clumps of cells to the speaker.

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