Bad wives and bitches

by Jess

I’m rereading bits of Rachel Zucker’s The Bad Wife Handbook and a collection of essays called The Bitch in the House, edited by Cathi Hanauer.  Both of these books have new resonance for me now that motherhood is imminent.

For example, this part of a long sequence poem called “Squirrel in a Palm Tree”:

I am equally and at once estranged from the person I knew as I and from the mossy being made so carefully

the child becomes a wedge between actions and self like a cyclone of gauze wraps himself around my mothering / and makes a hollow form

shape: human

cocoon around a maelstrom

Or this one, called “Autography 8,” which strikes me to the core in a quiet, chilling way:

What the mother will not
[myriad] say.  Many

to secret.  This is not just

about being a woman.  No one
believes mothers are, anyway.

They want to know how many
her love is

and want more.

Silence keeps them
safe so she

gives it
away: mute.

Mute, mute, muter (her
mouth’s a busted clasp).

As Louisa Thomas says in her very good review of The Bad Wife Handbook, “This is classic Zucker: pessimistic, but ultimately affirming.”

At the end of “Autography 17,” she remarks, “A reader, anonymous, suggested my poems would be better / if the marriage/motherhood stuff wasn’t so literal. / Life too, I’d say.”

The Bitch in the House can be much less affirming, though its twenty-six authors cover the gamut of emotion from bitterness to joy.  There’s also a certain comfort in knowing that one’s struggles, doubts, fears, desires, experiences, victories are shared.  We are not alone.

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