Not in Heaven, Molly Minturn
Southword Editions, 2019
€5 (within Republic of Ireland), €7 (shipped internationally)
Mothers and daughters
This is a pamphlet with multifarious themes but among the dominant threads are childhood memories and family ties, often with a strong sense of melancholy and loss concerning the poet’s mother.
In ‘Triptych’ a daughter lies waiting for her father in his home office, ‘on warm patches of rug / where skylights hit’, while a set of photographs of her mother watches from his bureau: ‘three of her, / a triptych in a red frame’:
I liked all of us there together, the whole
family, just before evening came on.
In ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ the sorrow of the mother’s shoulders is ‘framed in the window. // Speak her name and she will return.’
Beside a bathtub ‘filled with steaming water’ a mother rocks her daughter, singing her name ‘again and again as if to call [her] back’ (‘Wake’). Several children in ‘The Raft’ are ‘led by [their] mothers / through the water, / some of [them] in wings’.
Wednesday school nature walks are vividly remembered in ‘The Natural Order’, including the instructor’s blonde hair ‘held back in a scarf, nothing like our mothers.’ The poet’s mother’s preferred hairstyle is revealed in ‘Rust’, when the poet remembers riding in a Peugeot car-seat, ‘examining my mother’s head over the seat, the river of her new perm’.
It is also in ‘Rust’ that the poet switches to her own generally positive experiences as a mother, which gives a progressive air to this dimension of the chapbook. In contrast to the general sense of melancholy regarding her mother, here the poet writes of looking at her own daughter’s new-born face and saying ‘yes, of course’:
The other day I made pancakes for just the two of us. She sat watching
me and when my back was turned I felt her adult presence in her chair,
like a quickening, I served them up as I have so many times before —
golden, flat circles.
In ‘Willing’, this life-affirming aspect of the poet’s motherhood is emphasized. She pulls her daughter ‘in her green wagon through the neighbourhood. The wind blows and I feel alive.’ Whatever her perceptions about the past, the poet insists on the positives of the present moment.