by Emily Mohn-Slate
technology, social media, attention, and parenthood. A few years ago,
I started thinking a lot about my relationship with my phone and
social media. I started observing and writing about other people’s
ordinary, daily rituals with their devices, and this obsession has
been showing up in my poems. I’m interested in the ways our various
technologies (now including Zoom!) connects us and brings us close at
the same time it makes us feel further away, and what that means for
our emotional worlds, our relationships, our feeling of who we are in
our bodies, and in our physical landscapes.
And then, of course, my kids sneak in and interrupt things as usual.
These three poems in particular consider how being a parent requires
us to be fully engaged, and how that drives escapes as mundane and
necessary as scrolling Instagram in the bathroom. In these poems, the
speakers are also grappling with feeling trapped, tapped out,
impatient, full of rage, depressed, anxious—simply dealing with how
impossible it feels to be your own self and to be fully present for
your children, especially when things are so deeply uncertain.
I’m also interested in the invisibility of middle-aged women and
mothers, which is what drives the poem, “Building an Arch at the
Science Center.” If a father is with his kids, especially carrying a
baby in a baby carrier, he is essentially a GOD. But a woman?
Invisible. She’s just doing what she’s supposed to do.
Building an Arch at The Science Center
See how the mother hands her son the fake brick
he needs, how she contorts her body to hold up
the arch, how she reaches for another brick,
Almost there! she says, and her back cracks. Come,
see how she protects him from his discomfort.
I’m hungry, he says, and now she is her too-big purse:
Band-Aids for eyes, granola bar arms
that lump in summer heat. A sticky
zippered mouth. See how her leg shivers
to stay still as she searches for his snacks, how
it burns, how she shifts her thigh bone back
a perfect inch. Now she’s a stone pillar.
She’s melted her human pieces into something stronger.
Now he leans back harder into her leg, lets out
a little breath, focused only on his work,
trusting the pillar will hold.
Mama I need one more snuggle hug she says/even though you’ve read three books/changed her socks twice/found her Gruffalo doll/put a penny in her piggy bank/pulled her hair back in a ponytail/& watched as she ran & leapt onto the bed over & over & did a forward roll on the carpet/you’re thinking how you were alone today for 8 minutes/a 4 min shower/plus the time you lied & hid in the bathroom & scrolled Instagram while your husband broke up a fight/now you’re finally standing outside the door/your body half-turned away/just one more Mama please/& in the nightlight’s time-bending glow you become the child in the bed & your mother’s ghost shape hangs in the doorway/& you just want one more reassurance against the dark/Mama stay she says & you stay a little longer/& while you load the dishwasher you hope this tenderness erases your mistakes from today/the time you kept scrolling Twitter while she begged you to play/the time you growled in her face & grabbed her arm too hard & scared you both
My therapist asks about my overcritical self
Can you invite her in? But she’s already here/buzzing
in my skull, fluorescent eyes, incessant/yes,
I failed to hand in my son’s soccer signup form/yes,
I failed to get enough likes/I failed to stop and help the woman
at the bus stop who didn’t know English/I failed
to make my first marriage work, to own my part in its end/
I failed to say hello to my student the last time
I saw him before he died/my friends say, you’re only human/
but I don’t know how to be soft with myself/I failed even
to imagine ending it all/and the smoke keeps pouring out
of the chimney next door blowing this way and that in the wind/
This morning my son climbed into our bed/his body peppered
with goosebumps/he said, I’m cold. I need to pee/
he was drenched/he stunk of failure/I pulled him close,
let the pee stick to me/soak my shirt/I loved him
in his failure/then we rolled off his pajamas painstakingly
to get free/My therapist says Can you imagine your feelings
are temporary? She says a lot of things I want to believe/like
It’s ok to feel like a failure/Does my son think
he’s failed? No, he’s just cold/What would it take
for me to obliterate my loser, disappointment, worthless
whack-a-moles/or rather to let each of my attempts
be a green stem lengthening/I’m afraid to let
tender be a word I am to myself/although tender is
what I am when I curl like a seahorse in my sheets/tender
when I slip my pillow between the rocks of my knees/
when I pull out a chair for my incessant-nightmare self/
tender is what I might be when I tell myself
what I did today was enough.
Emily Mohn-Slate is the author of THE FALLS, winner of the 2019 New American Poetry Prize (forthcoming from New American Press, 2020) and FEED, winner of the 2018 Keystone Chapbook Prize (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, New Ohio Review, Muzzle Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she teaches high school English at Winchester Thurston School, and poetry workshops for the Madwomen in the Attic at Carlow University.