Lisa Furmanski: A Talent We Need More From

This is a poem I have come back to again and again since first hearing it on the Poetry Magazine podcast.  I don’t think the writer, a physician, has a book out yet, which is extraordinary to me because she’s obviously brilliant and tremendously talented.  Her name is Lisa Furmanski, and the poem is in the January 2008 Poetry Magazine:

The History of Mothers of Sons

All sons sleep next to mothers, then alone, then with others
Eventually, all our sons bare molars, incisors
Meanwhile, mothers are wingless things in a room of stairs
A gymnasium of bars and ropes, small arms hauling self over self

Mothers hum nonsense, driving here
and there (Here! There!) in hollow steeds, mothers reflecting
how faint reflections shiver over the road
All the deafening musts along the way

Mothers favor the moon—hook-hung and mirroring the sun—
there, in a berry bramble, calm as a stone

This is enough to wrench our hand out of his
and simply devour him, though he exceeds even the tallest grass

Every mother recalls a lullaby, and the elegy blowing through it

How can she write so freely, in plural third person, with such disparate images that cling together without end punctuation.  It’s so right brain, like James Wright’s “Before a Cashier’s Window in a Department store.”  And though it’s plural, no singular mother, the details are particular–“incisors,” “small arms,” “berry bramble.”  The language is also sensory filled–the sore muscles climbing the rope, the humming and lullabies–and freshly framed.  For example, it’s not just a gym, not just boys climbing, rather, “A gymnasium of bars and ropes, small arms hauling self over self…”  It gives me the sense of a scientist observing behaviors and development.  There’s an odd detachment that allows me to see the children (and the mothers) through a different lens.  And then there’s the gorgeous line: “All the deafening musts along the way…” Who says that?  It’s so original, so abstract, yet it works beautifully.  Shoulds and have-tos and musts.  Who hasn’t been drummed numb by them?  Of course, there’s also the final twist at the end, “the elegy” through the lullaby.  A riff on on the transitory nature of our child rearing.  Which, I suppose, fits beautifully with the plural voice.  We feel we are the singular, special, the most important person in their lives.   But we are merely one of many, a stage, a phase.  The poem asks us to look at our lives from a great distance.  When we’re done, if it works, we see ourselves differently.  And one thing I haven’t even mentioned is the sound of the words.  Listen to the first lines.  The beats, the rhymes, the repetitions.  And then a little further along, the one word stops “(Here!  There!)” and the pleasing “Mothers favor the moon—hook-hung and mirroring the sun…”  The “un” sounds and the way “hook-hung” stops and then spurts.  The best way to appreciate the sound is to hear the poet read it herself.  Click here: Poetry.

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