In the Park
by Gwen Harwood
She sits in the park. Her clothes are out of date.
Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.
A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt
Someone she loved once passed by – too late
to feign indifference to that casual nod.
“How nice” et cetera. “Time holds great surprises.”
From his neat head unquestionably rises
a small balloon…”but for the grace of God…”
They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing
the children’s names and birthdays. “It’s so sweet
to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,”
she says to his departing smile. Then, nursing
the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.
To the wind she says, “They have eaten me alive.”
I studied this poem for high school and I thought I’d share it with the blogosphere. I love it. The finale just makes me ache. I really enjoy Gwen Harwood’s work.
I believe the poem was written/published in 1968. The darker tones on motherhood are intriguing. The final words of the poem remind me of this documentary I once watched. There was a species of spider where the female would lay her eggs, and once they hatched she waited for them to feed. But they would crawl over the mother, and in sacrifice, the mother spider wouldn’t fend off her babies as they bit at her. This way she can ensure they have that vital first meal, without it her babies have a minimal survival rate. They eat her alive and it’s seen as one of the ultimate sacrifices of a mother (I think the program was something like ’10 Greatest Mothers’ within the animal kingdom. I love the Discovery Channel 😀 <3).
We don’t know why this mother (in the poem) feels this way about her children but it feels dishearteningly real. It feels authentic. I am a woman who has never felt the raw appeal of being a mother. I am still young and even if I wanted kids I would still wait a few years. But even in my future I don’t really want them. I know that many people have thought they didn’t want children when they were young but after having children they think their the best thing in the world. But of course they do. If you are a good parent how can you regret having children? I may not want children but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love my friend’s babies, the babies in the family etc. I know if I had children I would love them. It’s amazing to see another human grow.
But, what about the mothers (and fathers) who don’t feel that same fulfillment? What about those who simply feel hollow and used? Those issues may not be BECAUSE of the children, there are always so many factors at work, and maybe it’s a fleeting feeling, but there must be people who feel like that. Women didn’t always have other outlets, for many children was the only thing that was ‘rightfully’ theirs to be responsible for.
This poem was made in the 60s and although feminist waves were rolling through it was a time of change and confusion, in terms of gender roles (I’m talking about Australia [and maybe America?] because Gwen Harwood was Australian, I don’t know the feminist time-line for the entire globe. And I’m probably only half-right anyway :P).
I love the image of her nursing the child, and whispering to the wind that killer phrase, knowing that no one will ever hear her words. Maybe it’s the side of me that loves that kind of sad/morbid/dark story. But it fits so well. Mothers/fathers raise children with their best efforts (or so they should). Mothers, especially stay home mothers, not only raise the children and support them mentally, emotionally and in more modern times, financially, but also provide raw nutrients from her own body. She has a baby growing inside of her, she sacrifices that body for those 9 months, endures a day of painful labour and for months later she breastfeeds that child. Even in the modern day that happens. (I am pro-breast feeding, I know some mothers aren’t or put the baby on the bottle ASAP. That is another thing to discuss in the future. :P) It’s so raw. So primal. Mothers let that baby absorb, suck and take what it needs to survive. Some mothers might find total fulfillment and happiness with their children, but others may not.
While there are many happy children and happy mothers/fathers, I like how this poem explores the mother whose life didn’t turn out as she expected ‘time holds great surprises’ and whose children have eaten them alive.
Like/dislike the poem? What do you think of mothers (and fathers) who feel they have been ‘eaten alive’?
– Ermisenda Alvarez