Study Guide

the mother Stanza 2

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Stanza 2

Lines 11-13

I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.
I have contracted. I have eased
My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck. 

  • Brooks starts changing things up in this new stanza. No more couplets, no more addressing the audience with the word "you."
  • The mother speaks forcefully, in the first person, by using "I." And hold on to your hats, this poem's getting real.
  • The mother tells us that she has heard the voices of her "dim killed children." The implication here, of course, is that she is the one who killed her children. And note that she does not say that she "aborted a fetus," or "terminated a pregnancy." By using the word "children," she is already anticipating what these fetuses will turn out to be. 
  • And she also says that they are "killed." Not that she has killed them herself, but that they are "killed." This is some hyper-passive syntax. And through this passive grammar, the mother doesn't (in these lines, at least) actually come right out to blame herself for their deaths. 
  • We should also note that she says that these children are also "dim"—that they're hazy, dark, maybe unreachable. There's an acknowledgement here that these children exist dimly. They are shadowy figures. 
  • Next, the mother refers to her body. After the abortion, her body has "contracted." Even still, she imagines that she has "eased" her non-existing children by breastfeeding them. We are way into fantasy here, but the speaker knows this. She acknowledges that the non-existent children "could never suck" from her breast. Still, that undeniable fact doesn't seem to stop her from diving headlong into imagining that they could.
  • We should also note that the rhyming couplets are gone. Instead of the neatness of couplets, we now have very uneven lines and uneven rhymes (if any). It feels like the speaker may be getting emotional here, maybe even falling apart. 
  • Of course, it sounds like she's in a dark place. She's thinking through the lives that her non-existent children never got to have.
  • They are "killed." "They could never" breastfeed. She's not telling us directly that she regrets having had an abortion—and from her use of the word "children," probably multiple abortions—but she's sounding mighty sad right about now.

Lines 14-20

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, 

  • We've got another change in address. The mother is not talking to us now, or to herself; she's directly addressing her non-existent children. 
  • She calls them "Sweets," echoing the word from the first stanza. These children are like candy to her. (Yum. Child-candy.) 
  • And as she's addressing them, her words are all in the conditional tense. She doesn't say, for example, "I sinned"; she says "if I sinned." She doesn't say "I seized," but "if I seized."
  • Why is this important? Well, all of those "ifs" cast doubt on what she's saying. Her emotions are complex. She imagines her fetuses carried to term, she imagines them growing into babies and children and adults. But she also doesn't say flat-out that she's sinned in having an abortion. She's raising the possibility that she's sinned. It's a subtle, but important difference. 
  • She then lists all of the experiences that these non-existent children haven't had. They haven't had births, names, tears, games, loves, tumults, marriages, aches, or deaths. In short, these non-existence children haven't had lives at all. 
  • And why is that? In a turn of figurative language, the mother blames herself for seizing and stealing the abstract qualities of their childhood (births, names, games, etc.). 
  • The mother keeps imagining these lives that never were. It doesn't seem like she's totally regretting having an abortion, but she's definitely mourning the lives of the children that never came to be. 
  • But then her language gets harsher; she proposes the idea that she has "poisoned [their] breaths." It seems that her guilt is getting the better of her with this shift in tone.

Lines 21-28

Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?—
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty:

  • These lines are some of the most painful in the poem. In them, we see the mother tossing and turning in her mind. What responsibilities does she bear toward her unborn children? Has she committed a crime in aborting a pregnancy? What is her relationship to these non-existent beings? Is a fetus a life, or just a potential life?
  • These are just some of the questions that the mother is grappling with in these lines. Plus, there's one more: is she really a mother? Can one be a mother without children? By naming the poem "the mother," Brooks seems to be leaning toward "yes."
  • But let's read on—"the mother" has more to say.
  • She says that "even in [her] deliberateness [she] was not deliberate." In other words: even though she decided to have an abortion, she was not deliberately killing her children. 
  • But then, she begins to berate herself. She asks herself—what is the point of whining? The "crime"—the abortion—was her decision. 
  • The mother, for the first time, really, is directly referring to the abortion as a crime—as a killing that she was responsible for.
  • Hmm—is this poem suddenly hard-core anti-choice? 
  • No. The mother begins turning the abortion around in her head. Are her children "dead"? Were they just "never made"?
  • In this moment, the poem is questioning language—what language do we have to refer to aborted fetuses? How does the language that we use to speak about abortion affect our feelings—personal or political—about it? 
  • The mother finds her descriptions "faulty." She can't find the right words to describe the children that she never had. 
  • Also, you might want to note that the rhyming couplets are back. As the mother gets deeper into her sadness, she begins speaking in harsh rhymes. We can almost hear the hardening in her voice as she rhymes "dead" with "instead."

Lines 28-30

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. 

  • All of the mother's emotions and turbulent thoughts come to a head in these lines, as she mother cries out with an "oh." She doesn't know what to say. She doesn't have the language to describe her experience and the experience of her never-born children. 
  • So she tries to break it down in the simplest language that she has. She explains that the children were born, that they had bodies, that they died. But that they did this without life experiences—without laughter or planning or tears. 
  • The mother imagines a sort of life cycle (including death) for her non-existent children. But it's a weird life cycle, because it doesn't actually involve a life. (If this is making your head hurt a bit, don't worry—us, too.) 
  • There is a slowness in these lines, a moment of deliberate reckoning when the mother is trying to sort things out for herself.

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