from Liquid Flesh

Brenda Shaughnessy

copyright ©2012 by Brenda Shaughnessy

I’ve been melted into something
too easy to spill. I make more
and more of myself in order

to make more and more of the baby.
He takes it, this making. And somehow
he’s made more of me, too.

I’m a mother now.
I run to the bathroom, run
to the kitchen, run to the crib

and I’m not even running.
These places just scare up as needed,
the wires that move my hands

to the sink, to the baby,
to the breast are electrical.
I’m in shock.

One must be in shock to say so,
as if one’s own state is assessable,
like a car accident or Minnesota taxes.

A total disaster, this sack of liquid
flesh which yowls and leaks
and I’m talking about me

not the baby. Me, this puddle
of a middle, this utilized vessel,
cracked hull, divine

design. It’s how it works. It’s how
we all got here. Deform
following the function . . .

But what about me? I whisper
secretly and to think,
around these parts used to be

the joyful place of sex,
what is now this intimate
terror and squalor.

My eyes burned out at three a.m. and again
at six and eleven. This is why the clock
is drowning, as I said earlier.

I’m trying to explain it.
I repeat myself, or haven’t I already?
Tiny self, along with a tiny self.

I’ll say it: he hurt me, this new
babe, then and now.
Perhaps he always will,

though thoughts of the future
seem like science fiction novels
I never finished reading.

Notes on the Poem

"I’ve been melted into something / too easy to spill." Although the exact phrase appears further on, this line at the midpoint of this stirring selection from Brenda Shaughnessy's 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Our Andromeda could be the precise inspiration for the poem's title, "Liquid Flesh". As 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize judge Mark Doty further observed about this poem's and this collection's inspirations ...
"[Shaughnessy's] art has been transformed by a galvanizing sense of necessity into a more riveting, sometimes fiercely direct consideration of what it is to love a child, to care for one whose ability to care for himself is profoundly limited."
We've looked before at the intensity of emotion and commitment in Shaughnessy's poems from this collection, such as "Hearth". With "Liquid Flesh", we move to and through intimate and specific details, from physical pain and frantic anxiety ... "I run to the bathroom, run to the kitchen, run to the crib and I’m not even running. ... I’m in shock." ... to sleep deprivation ... "My eyes burned out at three a.m. and again at six and eleven. This is why the clock is drowning, as I said earlier." ... culminating in a kind of existential despair that, incredibly, melds with steadfast determination: "I’ll say it: he hurt me, this new babe, then and now. Perhaps he always will" Hilton Als' review in The New Yorker zeroes in on what Shaughnessy achieves in this scalding, fiercely loving picture of a mother's devotion:
"Again and again, she calls attention to our collective isolation by describing imperfection, the difficulty of creating new worlds for ourselves when we’re pulled by the world that has created us."
It's a perfect description of how Shaughnessy perfectly describes an imperfection many not only face and contend with, but would have no other way.

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