Feb 132012
 

Julianna Baggott, an amazingly prolific and bestselling writer of prose fiction, has published eighteen titles in the last ten years using three pen names: her own, under which she wrote her national-bestselling debut novel Girl Talk, among other titles, and her brand new novel Pure; Bridget Asher, under which she wrote The Pretend Wife, again among other novels; and N.E. Bode, the pen name she uses for her younger readers. She has also published poems in Poetry, American Poetry Review, and other prestigious journals.

Baggott’s poetry collection, This Country of Mothers, published by Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry, at Southern Illinois University Press, in 2001 and about to be released as an e-book, reads like a memoir-in-poems divided into four phases: her own conception and birth, her growth from girlhood into sexual awareness, the birth of her children and her miscarriage, and her end-of-life care-taking for aging parents. Throughout these poems she seems to have plunged beneath the surface of motherhood, through the banal details and her received cultural conceptions, and into the vivid psychological reality of it. Once beneath that surface she fixes herself at a certain depth and voice, maintaining an unvarying distance from her subject. Readers — especially if they are male — might be given the sense of having a privileged, inside view, almost as though she has put a camera lens into her snorkel and taken us along on this dive.

Baggott occasionally turns her view upward, seeing that cultural surface of motherhood, particularly as it is shaped by her Catholic upbringing, from underneath, from her perspective as an actual giver-of-birth. “Maybe if we could see…her face contorted with pain,/the cords of her neck/ taut and blue,/ then we might believe Joseph,/ and how he must have said/ I can see the head;/ it’s glowing.”  Occasionally she turns her gaze downward toward an abyss.  “..was she in love with what she couldn’t have?…Yesterday, a woman belted her children/ into highchairs and lit gasoline-soaked/ dishrags…” But for the most part she keeps it fixed straight ahead, staring into her own experience.

And it is when she is describing her own experience that Baggott seems to take the biggest risks and gets the biggest imaginative payoffs. Here she is describing herself at her own conception: “…I am swelling/ and waiting, a ticking egg, a twisting tail, a/ fly smashing against bright glass.”

The theme of being a vessel that life passes through unifies the three sections as in the poem “First Time,” in which she describes the loss of her virginity: “… I thought of my own/ uterus, tight and small as a pear, the broken/ seal of it, and what could now take root,/ stumped arms, bowed legs, the squalling/mouth and hollow head of a sinful child…” Later in “What I Told the Jehovah’s Witness” she writes, “when I was young and fucking sweetly” and it recalls this image of that vessel of her body as a fruit. Even the birth control pills “rattling in their plastic capsules” are inside wombs.

There is no denying Baggott’s imaginative gifts: the moments of new and strange insights into what it means to be a giver-of-birth come fast and furious.

—Rimas Blekaitis

 

Coming Home at Seventeen

 In his father’s roadster, I remember
our exposed radio-lit bones,
……………………………………our pearly oils
tinged red with blood,
how the car, sealed shut, filled with steam
so like a bathroom pumped with hot shower water
I could only think
of my mother,
………………..rocking me on the tub’s edge,
my throat constricted with midnight croup,
each cough ringing my ribs,
my own voice
………..an animal bark and moan,
until slowly my throat opened again,
my body went slack
…………………………with something near sleep,
my hand a tiny pink star
……………………………..on her sagging breast.
He drove me home past unwashed churches,
seam-rusted silos, a man caught in his headlights,
shoveling a raccoon from the roadside.
At home, I stood in her flower patches,
name-tagged like school children,
white plastic posts marked with laundry pen.
The basement’s bare bulb
…………………………………shined through the window wells;
and the dark house, belly-lit,
seemed to hover
……………………..just above earth like a spaceship.
My father lingered underground,
wide fingertips running over
the greased gears of his clocks.
Through the open upstairs windows,
where curtains billowed like veils,
…………………………………….I could hear my mother
from their bed, calling his name, calling.
I waited for the house to heave from earth
in a whir
…………of clipped grass and shingles,
dust-ruffles and splintered wood.
My father pulled the chain
……………………………on the basement bulb,
and turned on the front porch light—
in the slow dilation of morning
………………………………….it burned
like a golden pear, like fruit on fire.

 

First Pregnancy

I could not believe a child.
Instead, I envisioned a landscape,
an ocean turning in on itself,
a moving mountain, a field

that could fold and unfold,
my body overtaken by a living map.
Even once when her hand appeared
from the other side—

a five-fingered hand print
as clear as a preschooler’s plaster mold—
I could not accept the benediction.
Like Thomas, I am hard-hearted.

I need the body, to watch Jesus
eat the white fish,
pick his teeth with its bones,
my hands caked in his blood.

 

After the Miscarriage

I try not to think that heaven is memory.
The baby knew nothing
………………………..but the dark waters
and enveloping sky of my body,
my blood’s prattle, the solecisms
of my heart,
……………..its own heart
pumping the first sips of blood,
its weightless stirring.
Instead I envision the flowers I now tend like children,
how they bend in the wind, even at night
as we make love, the way they sway darkly lit.
But the baby is always there,
imagine, the size of a thumb, swimming,
lit now from within,
……………………..its body glimmering
beneath shiny skin,
the image not of the bloom’s sheath
left to dry out, frail and crisp,
but the unsteady flower’s head, a ghost,
forever bobbing, dazed above it.
————————————–

Julianna Baggott is the author of 18 books, mostly novels, under her own name as well as pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. Three of her books are collections of poetry, This Country of Mothers (SIU Press, 2001), Lizzie Borden in Love (SIU Press 2006), and Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees (Pleiades Press/LSU Press, 2007), which is a manual on how to write poems written in poems.  Her poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, and read on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Her most recent novel, Pure (Hachette 2012), is the first in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. She teaches at Florida State University.

The Book Trailer for PURE
www.juliannabaggott.com
The Shared Brain of Baggott, Asher & Bode Blog
www.pure-book.com

  2 Responses to “Coming Home at Seventeen: Poems — Julianna Baggott”

  1. Wow, these are breathtaking!!

  2. Love these. But especially the “fruit on fire” and that watching and waiting feeling after the chaotic overly present start of the piece. Beautiful. Thanks.

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