Holden Caulfield's mother is a small presence in Catcher. She only appears briefly in person at the end of the book, when Holden sneaks home to visit his sister, Phoebe. There's something tragic about Mrs. Caulfield. She's struggling to hold her family together after the death of her son, Allie, from leukemia. Holden is flunking out of another school. D. B., her oldest son, has left for Hollywood to work as a script writer. Her husband is a workaholic lawyer, and she, herself, suffers from migraines. In the above passage, all Mrs. Caulfield has to offer her daughter are the standard bedtime tokens of motherhood: a kiss, prayers.
Holden's mother is suffering. Yet, she tries to stitch together something close to normalcy for her children. That is what mothers do. They feed their children, protect them, correct them, and, eventually, let them fly away.
I recently read a chapbook of poetry by Julie Brooks Barbour titled Come to Me and Drink. The poems in this book are tender and hard, compassionate and unforgiving. Barbour writes of motherhood in all its complexity. She doesn't flinch away from blood and bone. No, she shines an intense, clear light on the beautiful pain of being a mother, and, in doing so, creates a collection of poems that breaks and binds the heart.
The title poem of the book taps the very root of motherhood. The imagery is both natural and mythical, calling to mind the intimate ecstasy between mother and infant:
Come to Me and Drink
I know what she tastes: the ambrosia
that one morning fell in drops
from my breast to my arm. Tasting it,
my tongue recalled the white and yellow
blossoms of honeysuckle sprouting wild
along a field's edge. Collecting vine upon vine,
I'd pluck each sweet blossom, pull out
each green stamen, careful not to lose
the drop of nectar at its tip, delighting
my tongue with the watery sugar.
Now the gods put me on the vine.
The buds of my nipples are pink
and dripping. An infant plucks me dry,
a sweet smell on her breath. This liquid:
a heal-all for a stomachache, a sedative
for the sleepless child making her bed
in the field's tall grass. Her lips suckle in sleep.
Her tongue clicks in her mouth, an exercise.
The passing breeze my voice,
whispering around her ear. My arms vines
coaxing her to come to me and drink.
The poem reaches beyond the stereotypical icon of Madonna/Christ child. Barbour's mother is nectar, honeysuckle. Barbour's child is honeybee, hummingbird.
Come to Me and Drink offers bitter milk, as well. A later poem reaches beyond infancy, shows a mother on the cusp of release. Present in these lines are the distant push of birth and present ache for freedom:
The infant on my lap is theirs
and he is warm and soft. He smells sweet,
like cake, a morsel of something I could eat.
I had my own baby once, but she is grown--
all knees and elbows now, gangly and gorgeous.
When I look inside my own heart,
no desire glows there. His scent wafts away.
There are oceans of want ahead, sickly sweet.
I open my sail. I have all day.
That is what is truly remarkable about the poems in this collection. They are full of love, but this love is tempered with the knowledge that motherhood is a journey. A voyage. Baby to girl to woman to mother to baby. Over and over.
Julie Brooks Barbour's poems are all about that voyage, filled with oceans of sweet want. They are gorgeous. They are tender. Come to Me and Drink sails into the soul.
And that's a piece of Saint Marty's mind.
|Read it and love it|