In the Absence of a Word for a Woman Who Is Not a Mother

Third Draft:

In the Absence of a Word for a Woman Who Is Not a Mother

“Your dream, then, is of a nothingness where an investment of love lives on.”
~ Charles D’Ambrosio

Under the pitted crust of April snow, blind and
rooting, everything waits.
Even my resolve not to have babies,

elegy, effigy, small absence in the loam
holds its breath, tested
by lily bulbs and history of rose.

All thorns and orange tongues, as they
near glory, name the day they’ll interrupt
in green with shoots to split

my alibi, catch me in the act.
Look: I am no traitor to the cause.
Energy replicates itself in buds or

bust. I have labored in my love,
atomized, dispersed like rain.
Notice my nothings, as well,

enjoined to life. My children’s children, offer me this
kindness: bless me in your travels
as a pilgrim loves the road.

Notes from Ella, a best reader:

I think something is a bit off with the third line, “Even my resolve not to have babies.” The word ‘babies’ feels really frank and sticks out from your other words. It also kind of takes on the connotations of the words around it (buried, blind, rooting, snow), which makes it feel more fetal than baby to me. The image a fetus stands strangely against the warmth of “babies.” I think the bigger thing is that the 3rd line feels like it should be more about you, but the attention really hangs off the word babies.

Maybe phrase the 3rd line differently so it focuses more on you, and if you keep the word babies, move it farther down in the poem, once you’ve had more time to establish your tone for the reader?

I like the idea of the absence being tested by lily bulbs, and the orange tongues interrupting in green.

Just in terms of lines, more of the poem is about what happens when one has babies (orange tongues and all that) than what happens when one doesn’t. Since the poem is entitled “In the Absence of a Word,” maybe you could make what happens when not a mother more full. You have the bit about your alibi and catching you in the act — maybe just one more line or even half a line about what you were doing? It moves to “Look: I am no traitor” very quickly, which could seem a bit like a quick justification, whereas I want you to linger a bit more and give me a sense of what has been given instead of children. The second to last stanza is almost like a justification as well, so I think more linger would balance this.

Revisions:

In the Absence of a Word for a Woman Who Is Not a Mother

“Your dream, then, is of a nothingness where an investment of love lives on.”
~ Charles D’Ambrosio

Under the pitted crust of April snow, blind and
rooting, everything waits. It’s not like you’d
expect, not having children. It’s not

elegy or effigy, but some days even this resolve must
hold its breath, tested
by lily bulbs and history of rose.

Again, the promises of thorn and orange tongue
near their glory, needle through the loam
in interrupting green.

My love with its own labors,
liquid, runs it channels,
energizing what it didn’t fix in place.

By now, I know no ghosts will share my bearing,
and there is peace in what one waters.
No trace or debt, one just

evaporates. My children’s children, offer this
kindness: bless the rain that patters
as a pilgrim loves the road.