Friday Poem – A Birthmother’s Catechism

This week’s poem is from Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons, first published in 2014, which has been shortlisted for the 2014 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

In Imagined Sons  Carrie Etter has written a book of vivid, heartbreaking poems on the experience of giving up a child for adoption. A prize-winning author, lecturer, critic and popular blogger, Etter imagines the possible destinies for the child and presents us with various scenarios from the tragic to the absurd. That the child’s birthday is also Sept. 11th adds a layer of irony and pathos, ‘What is the anniversary of loss?’ – asks the narrator in one of the ‘Birthmother’s Catechism’ poems. A pamphlet containing some of these poems was a Poetry Book Society Choice.

A Birthmother’s Catechism

How did you let him go?

With black ink and legalese

How did you let him go?

It’d be another year before I could vote

How did you let him go?

With altruism, tears, and self-loathing

How did you let him go?

A nurse brought pills for drying up breast milk

How did you let him go?

Who hangs a birdhouse from a sapling?

Order a copy of Imagined Sons from our website.

Friday Poem – A Birthmother’s Catechism

This Friday’s poem, A Birthmothers Catechism, comes from Carrie Etter’s collection Imagined Sons. The giving up of a first-born son for adoption is the central story, and the way the ramifications of this act echo down the years through the protagonist’s life is movingly embodied. The poems describe various scenes in which the son is ‘encountered’. They are sometimes straight-forwardly realistic, almost like film clips; then there are dream slices full of surreal images; brief comedies or tragedies; and short lyrical laments. This is one of those brave, rare and heartfelt books that will stay with the reader. It has both a compelling urgency and a passionate purpose.

A Birthmother’s Catechism

What do you want?

After twenty hours on trains, I stand on the platform
and stare at I know not what

What do you want?

Rub the leaves between your fingers and smell a ripe lemon

What do you want?

When a stranger compares her mortgage to signing away
her firstborn, I nod and cannot speak

What do you want?

The hangman sold the rope by the inch as a panacea

What do you want?

Houndstooth daisies, in a small, extended fist

Get Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons here

Friday’s Poem – A Birthmother’s Catechism (September 11, 1986)

imagined Sons Carrie Etter

This Friday’s poem, A Birthmother’s Catechism (September 11, 1986), comes from Carrie Etter’s collection Imagined Sons, A book of vivid, heartbreaking poems on the experience of giving up a child for adoption. Etter imagines the possible destinies for the child and presents us with various scenarios from the tragic to the absurd: a baker, a surfer, a rapist, even the olive in her Greek salad.  Dispersed among these narratives are the ‘Birthmother’s Catechisms’, These narratives provide numerous answers to persistent questions, How did you let him go? What is the anniversary of loss?

A Birthmother’s Catechism (September 11, 1986)

What is the anniversary of loss?

A national day of mourning

Really now, what is the anniversary of loss?

My mother and I watch TV well past her usual bedtime

What is the anniversary of loss?

Where the swan’s nest had been, widely scattered branches and some crumpled beer cans

What is the anniversary of loss?

Sometimes the melancholy arrives before the remembering

What is the anniversary of loss?

Some believe it is impossible to spend too much on the memorial

What is the anniversary of loss?

When I say sometimes the melancholy comes first, I know the body has its own memory

What is the anniversary of loss?

The wishbone snapped, and I clung to the smaller piece