Mother Country examines the intricacies of mother–daughter relationships: what we inherit from our mothers, what we let go, what we hold, and what we pass on to our own children, both the visible and invisible. As the speaker gradually loses the mother she has always known and upon whom she has always depended to early onset Parkinson’s disease and mental illness, she asks herself: “How do you deal with the grief of losing someone who is still living?” The caregiving of a child to her parent is further compounded by anxiety and depression, as well as the pain of a miscarriage and the struggle to conceive once more. Her journey comes full circle when the speaker gives birth to a son and discovers the gap between the myths of motherhood and a far more nuanced reality.
Do I look strange? she asks.
The other patients with their flyaway hair
& unblinking eyes wander the floor.
You look like a movie star.
The nurses suggest I get some air.
Her eyes widen as I edge toward the door,
leaving her in gloved hands, quick
for a cure.
As a girl I followed her
down any steep or muddied path.
I catch my face in the sharp fluorescence
of the bathroom mirror.
Have my dark eyes darkened?
Was that shadow there before?
Who will I follow when she is gone?
When they wheel her back to me:
faint bloom of urine on her gown.
What happened in that room
while I drank coffee just outside the door?
Mother, I’ve done what you would never do.
Walked you to the edge, then turned away.
"Mother Country is in large part about the body. The body, like a country, holds so much, and all at once. So much doubt, joy, pleasure, power, uncertainty, pain, family, beloveds, the individual, the collective. There is life; there is loss; there is miracle. The collective has power to sustain the individual. The individual also harness their own power."
“Mother Country is a breathtaking and mythical account of the complex, everyday, and porous realms of death and birth. With lyrical, imagistic intelligence and unwavering precision, Bell writes the deaths of her unborn children, her grandmother, versions of herself and of her mother. The result is a steadfast and achingly clear record of a woman's mother-route, which, among other things, traces the shape of her own mother's life and illness. She writes: ‘Through the dark I feel my mother's wild eye.’ And: ‘My mother was a dead doll I held her / hand in the land of the dead / and did not turn away...’ Gravid with loss, Bell's is a haunting, vital, songful work, and it does not turn away.”
—Aracelis Girmay, author of Kingdom Animalia and the black maria
“Mother Country provides us passage through the many portals of what it means to be, alternately, dependent upon or responsible for another’s nurture. And like the experience itself, these poems are both comforting and terrifying. Elana Bell has put to language an experience so intrinsic to its moments, I did not know how it might be brought to life in a poem. One leaves these poems changed, even healed, by their beauty and deep humanity. This book is not just for mothers. It’s for everyone.
—Cate Marvin, author of Oracle and co-founder VIDA: Women in Literary Arts