Today, Rachel Moritz—whose How Absence is being bound now and is shipping as we bind—writes for us about the process of making these poems and of forming this book, and about motherhood.
A strange imagination
How Absence began as a series of poems written in the first years of my son’s life.
My son began as an idea, he was a process I undertook “to have a baby,” then a product of my body, then he was himself.
“…a strange imagination can do as much as the Heavens can…” –Jane Sharp, midwife
“The Figure Explained: Being a Dissection of the Womb with the usual manner how the Child lies therein, near the time of its Birth.” From The Midwives Book, or the Whole Art of Midwifry Discovered, by Jane Sharp, published 1671
While I was pregnant, I craved language about childbirth beyond the endless online articles or parenting books suddenly entering my world.
I was drawn to this midwifery manual of the late Renaissance, its textural and archaic words: the placenta a cake, the ovaries Seed vessels, the umbilical cord a Navel String. And its central illustration: a flower between the pregnant woman’s legs, her annotated, flayed womb as she stares out at us.
This woman is not the true subject of the illustration, though she contains it: both process (‘near the time of its Birth’) and location (‘the Womb, the Child therein’). I wrote often with this image, drafts of poems that never settled.
When my son was in the world, his presence felt like a nearness submerging me into cycle: sleep and waking, day and another day, being with him and being without him.
My suspension in the nearness of early motherhood (near to him/near to his body) also felt oddly simultaneous with absence:
Absence from self (a former intimacy vanishing instantly with his birth).
Absence from the other half of my son’s biological material (his conception through a donor we’ll know little about until my son turns 18).
Absence/removal from time as an axis I perceived myself moving along with (seemingly) clear direction.
In its place: foreground, blur, repetition.
As my son grew beyond the first early months, time also seemed to warp. It sped up. Physical sensations, moments of image, days, months: everything felt like it was hurtling toward me at breakneck speed. His presence was the new calendar, one that, before, had never felt so unrelenting as well as so swift.
Is one’s sense of time more intimate under the nearness of living with a young child or is it simply that one’s sense of space has shifted? How all things shrink around the perimeter of a person (hood) not your own.
In some sense, what’s transformed most since my son’s birth is my relationship to time + space.
These two locales (what else do we live by?) directly affecting my imaginative life: access, energy, scope, focus.
The poems in How Absence are one set of frames or distillations around shifts in self that continue the longer I’m in motherhood, or, I suppose, it’s in me.