Extract from “44 Things” by Kirsty Gunn

In honour of Mothering Sunday, I wanted to include a poem about motherhood and in honour of mothers. Despite scouring the internet, nothing really fit, and then I remembered this book 44 Things by Kirsty Gunn which I bought when my eldest daughter was a baby. I remember reading a review of it which included some extracts and it reduced me to tears as the strong sentiments resonated so much, so I bought the book, but realise now it has been left un-read on my bookshelf. It might be time to read it. The extract below sums up for me some of the strong, mixed and surprising emotions that motherhood has evoked for me. Its not a poem, so I am cheating a bit but there are a lot of poems in the book!

“I see now that I, too, have been consumed by my bearing, my giving birth to, nursing and caring for my two children. To hold them, for as long as I can, always to hold them […] To feel myself break with tiredness at their needs and still want to crawl into bed beside them and feel my own breath at the soft base of their necks….This my desire, my burn.

I never expected it. I never thought I wanted it, this consummate need of children that devours me, sends me rigid with boredom and rage, sometimes, flattening me with a sense of failure and despair like no other, and also lifts me up like on wings with the euphoria of soaring, wondering happiness and love. Yet I feel the reality of those contradictions and the life that contains them – so real, in fact, it’s sometimes hard to find realities elsewhere. I can’t remember certain things like I used to remember […] I don’t seem interested any more in hanging onto facts like these. Neither do I express myself with the certainty I had before; I don’t even think I have any certainties any more. Instead, I live in a somewhere else that’s alive with questions and with questioning, and answer that lead only on to other, different answers. It’s somewhere far away from those old certainties, this place, where sentences begun may end unfinished, and paragraphs dissolve away. A somewhere else where sometimes I can barely speak at all.

And what a place it is, too, that place where talking stops. As though the self’s been stilled, shock-stilled sometimes, by all the busy, wondering neediness of a child. It can feel like there’s nothing of you left. And yet there is. A different kind of sense that’s born from all the chaos and the quiet….A different mind. Is it like this for everyone as we get older? As we become parents and see our children grow? I don’t know. All I do know is that I myself am burned through by my daughter’s flames and I don’t see now how I could walk out of the conflagration and pretend the fire never happened. I wouldn’t want to pretend.”

From 44 Things by Kirsty Gunn (2006), Atlantic Books, London, pp.19-20.

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