A Breath She Took


A Breath She Took

I savoured that little drop of ink
hoping it would spread
and weave dainty letters
curling into loops of loving words
pretty like lace doilies
in symmetrical perfection
I hung on to those words
cupping them in my hand
lightly weighing them
hoping, in protection
they would grow and blossom
and magically unfold
into cashmere coves.

I jumped upon that breath she took,
in between kitchen table ramblings
spreading like weeds, a mile a minute
I pounced like a cat –
straight out of that cupboard
onto that slot of discarded time
swatting that tic of the clock with my claws
and pulling each iron bracket
bookending that second
like an expander apart
A slot of vacant space
allowing me a cradle
allowing me for once
to simply speak my mind

But I just lost her
where was she going?
always confusing
I would follow –
I had to pay attention
into the labyrinths of her mind
I simply needed Ariadne’s thread
hoping for once just to understand
should I slip under her skin
or prop up a ladder and open her skull?

But perhaps, perhaps it was me –
perhaps I just didn’t understand

Perhaps I was the over-sensitive one
the ungrateful one
the difficult one,
the trouble-maker
the instigator
just too much imagination
always simply over-reacting?

So – I watched.
And I watched.
I watched the bread go stale
on that very tablecloth
a heavy clump of grains
a mould-riddled monument
for Demeter on her chariot
holding not a sceptre
but a sword in hand
still hoping it was me
who just didn’t understand.

That I had misread
her attempts
to nurture

She, who is said to love us before she meets us?

Frances Livings © 2011


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Musing by Other Artists on This Topic. A small Collection:

Barbara Hepworth, Mother and Child, 1934
Barbara Hepworth, Mother and Child, 1934

“To return to the mother might be engulfing and precipitate a fatal loss of self … what a solace it would be to construct a haven for the disembodied memories of pleasure at the mother’s breasts – a chamber where the oscillations of dread and longing merge together and I might resurrect this lost archaic contact safely, quelling my fears of her depths.”

~ Helen Chadwick, Enfleshings, London 1989

Pablo Picasso, Girl Before A Mirror, 1932
Pablo Picasso, Girl Before A Mirror, 1932

“In infancy and childhood, a daughter catches the first glimpse of herself in the mirror that is her mother’s face. If her mother is loving and attuned, the baby is securely attached; she learns both that she is loved and loveable. That sense of being lovable – worthy of affection and attention, of being seen and heard – becomes the bedrock on which her earliest sense of self is built, and provides the energy for its growth. The daughter of an unloving mother – one who is emotionally distant, withholding, inconsistent, or even hypercritical or cruel – learns different lessons about the world and herself. […] the daughter’s need for her mother’s love is primal and a driving force and that need isn’t diminished by its unavailability. That need coexists with the terrible and damaging understanding that the one person who is supposed to love you without condition doesn’t. The struggle to heal and cope is a mighty one, affecting many, if not all parts, of the self, but especially in the area of relationship…”

~ Peg Streep in Psychology Today, 2013

Mother & Child

Barbara Hepworth_Mother and Child, 1934, pink ancaster stone 310 x 260 x
Barbara Hepworth, Mother and Child, pink Ancaster stone, 1934

“As a modern, with no centre, no core of belief […] – might the maternal offer a locus between birth and identity? […] The motif of Mother and Child consoles our fall from this first hearth of pleasure promising a union beyond the one of flesh. Idealized and devotional. the Virgin’s love is unconditional. Of spotless body, she can return as bride and lover to her son. This is our Christian legacy. For a woman of human lineage to couple female with female is difficult, since embraces of love in sameness lie in the realm of the unspoken and forbidden.”

~ Helen Chadwick on Lofos Nymphon, in: Enfleshings, London 1989.


This, in the end, may be the crux of a parent’s power over a child: not only to create the world the child lives in but also to dictate how that world is to be interpreted.”

~ Deborah Tannen

Henry Moore, Reclining figure, 1946 bronze

“Henry Moore describes in his memoirs how, as a small boy, he massaged his mother’s back with oil to soothe her rheumatism. Reading this suddenly threw light for me on Moore’s sculptures: the great reclining women with the tiny heads – I could now see in them the mother through the small boy’s eyes, with the head high above, in diminishing perspective, and the back closer before him and enormously enlarged. […] for me this demonstrates how strongly a child’s experience may endure in his unconscious and what possibilities of expression they may awaken in the adult who is free to give them reign.”

~ Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child

* * *

If you had an unavailable, unloving or even cruel and abusive mother, I strongly recommend – besides therapy – the following books. It is a difficult path to walk towards healing. Especially because it is still taboo to even doubt whether all mothers (or fathers) are unconditionally loving. We are often shamed by society for even questioning the intentions of parents, let alone exposing those who were abusive. But you must believe your own truth and learn to have compassion with yourself – because that is precisely what you were most likely never taught. Au contraire, you were conditioned through punishment to not break out from a tight corset of having to be useful, obedient and undemanding and never trust or care for self… it’s never too late.

If there are any recommendations you would like to make, please post them in the comments!

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