In the chapel of our
I put you to my breast again and again
and let you refuse me.
Half-life half-lived and
as my witness: I have been more
mother than woman. I have stayed up
all night lining the shelves of my life
with your toys and books.
It might be a comfort
the way my whole world spins
on the tip of your smallest toe,
but you will learn to be a woman
from the way I am a woman
in this world
and this is the litany
of my mistake.
San Francisco poet and essayist Amanda Moore comes the full-length poetry debut, Requeening (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2021), 2020 winner of the National Poetry series, as selected by Ocean Vuong. Bees are, I’ve garnered, the earth-equivalent of the canary in a coal mine, and poets seem to return to bees fairly regularly, from Tonya M. Foster’s A Swarm of Bees in High Court (Brooklyn NY: Belladonna*, 2015) [see my review of such here] to Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s Listening to the Bees (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2018) to Muriel Leung’s IMAGINE US, THE SWARM (New York NY: Nightboat Books, 2021) [see my review of such here], among others. For Moore’s part, the figure and mantra of the bee follows from opening to central image: “This might have been the way I was born,” she writes, close to the beginning of the opening poem, “Opening the Hive,” “to move over my mother and wash from her / what was left of painful birth, her legs / like the old wood cracked with a hive tool, / my lips clamping and the bees burrowing / into honeycomb, bathed in sweetness, / a taste fresher when robbed this way.” She writes of the wisdoms and lessons passed from one generation to another, such as the poem “Sonnet While Killing a Chicken,” that opens: “The most important thing a girl can learn / is how to kill a chicken for a meal / to feed a man, so she begins to turn / the bird by neck and bound feet—this skill real, / precise, my mother wringing damp both towels / and snapping them on our rumps like the neck / snaps in the hand, wings sputter, bowels / release shit.” Moore writes of labour, industry, mothering, birth and daughters; a sequence of women and bees, and the physicality of bodies and work. “I prefer the mystery / of a bee’s body returning,” she writes, as part of “Waggle Dance,” “bright orange streaks of pollen / in the sacks on the backs of her legs // like fistfuls of hazy, polluted sun.”
“Everything beautiful can be reduced // to scientific measurement:,” the same poem offers, to open, “this language / this dance // this swoop and waggle / across the hexagoned surface of comb [.]” The word “precarity” is utilized in Vuong’s blurb on the back cover, and Moore speaks to issues of health and other complications, writing a motherhood of bees and of just how easy the entire hive structure might simply collapse, and everything completely lost. Composing poems around the metaphor of bees, Moore writes of aunts, wasps, mothering and the lessons that emerge from each and all of the above, structuring her hard-won lessons through a variety of structures, from sonnets to a section of haibun to her carved accumulations of lyric couplets. And such hard lessons, certainly, through the ebb and flow of her prose lyric narratives, such as the opening of “20905 Caledonia Avenue Hazel Park MI,” that reads: “After tuning each floorboard / and scraping walls to chalky plaster // layering checkerboard tile and nailing / every shingle to the roof we made // a baby and I bore her in my body / until she broke me and we brought her there // where I milked myself each morning so happy / to make a home // for suffering, down to / the location even: the old place perched // on the edge of a city waking / from decades of cold dormancy.”
There is an attentiveness to Moore’s language; a precision to her explorations through mothers and bees, wasps and ants, and her own thoughts on mothering her own daughter. The slow evolution through the collection from writing of her mother to mothering to her own daughter is reminiscent of a couple of other titles over the years, most recently Silvina López Medin’s Poem That Never Ends (Essay Press, 2021) [see my review of such here]. Moore writes not only of mothering, but of the shifts in perspective that emerge with the role. She writes of love, failure and exhaustion, and of moving through the accumulation into something akin to appreciation, and even wisdom and accomplishment, such as the end of the poem “Everything Is a Sign Today,” that offers: “The only difference / the season and time of day, which is to say / they are like this grief these months later: / all the same but for the light.”