A colourful abstract painting with white shadowed lettering on top of thisEvery Day I Promise Myself, Rachel Davies

4Word, 2020     £5.99

What-if mothers

Every Day I Promise Myself is an inventive exploration of mother-daughter relationships. The sequence about alternative mothers particularly intrigues me — given that my own life was shaped by my mother’s widowhood.

Rachel Davies speculates on ‘what-ifs’. What would it have been like to have had a mother who wasn’t unconditional in her love? What if she was self-centred, or preferred another of her children? What if she lacked wisdom, suffered addiction or persecution?

‘Alternative Mother #1’ explores Naamah’s relationship with her husband Noah as they build the Ark. He is dismissive of her contribution. She silently recounts that significant contribution:

he says you need to         says why don’t you
says if you did it like this          says it’ll never
says more tar more tar         says what’s for tea

Naamah is referred to as ‘you’, as are many of these potential mothers.

you build steps     a ramp      channel your inner
farmhand     herd the animals      in pairs

We’re intimately engaged. We’re one with her unappreciated industry, her invisibility. I imagine she was an exhausted, steadfast mother without status. Perhaps she’d teach her own daughter(s) to find a voice?

Eleven diverse poems follow in this vein. ‘Alternative Mother #3 Mary B’ conjures an alcoholic neglectful mother; ‘#4 Jean’, a benevolent, warm and nurturing persona; ‘#7 Cynthia’, a remote, desperate, unavailable parent; and ‘#11 Alice’, a Wonderland character who ‘keeps disappearing’ — finally into the ‘acrid stench of the grave’.

Davies’s pamphlet deftly balances deep emotion with dry humour. Each potential mother is well crafted, inviting a connection with the reader. After all, everyone has a mother of some kind for good or ill.

Maggie Mackay