“Faint” explores personal experiences and maternity in a workplace that half-hearted accommodates mothers through a friendly, confessional voice that doesn’t overshare but has an urgent story to tell. A new mother, who has struggled to breastfeed, now enters the baffling world of breast pumps on return to work after maternity leave in “The Let-Down”,
“Behold my tools: bottles, funnels, tubes,
a hospital grade machine. And the pièce de résistance:
an outrageous pumping bra, wide eyed.
At work I occupy the cupboard. A door lock is vetoed –
health and safety. My new hire reads of a breast milk café,
says he’s up for tit-flavoured ice cream.
A change. Pink veins meander through today’s output –
a swirling candy cane. This end feels like a beginning.
The toddler laps the living room, unaware.”
Finding privacy in buildings that were not designed to accommodate mothers is tricky enough without “jokes” from co-workers when silence or a supportive comment would have been more useful. The success of filling a bottle with milk is a new stage on a maternal journey. One that won’t be acknowledged by the child who will benefit so a personal triumph.
The title poem goes back to a time of corsets, “I have dwindled to 18 inches” and continues,
“Fetch the smelling salts. Take me, swooning,
to my fainting couch and arrange me just so.
Tend me as I loll, insensible and decorative,
awaiting the doctor and his therapeutic manipulations.
Tell me, future sister, where will you go
to loosen your laces, gorge yourself on air?
Where will you go when your womb wanders?
When you drown in the shallows?”
Fainting seems to be a good excuse to take a time out, a breather from dealing with a world fashioned for men that acts as a corset for woman.
The theme of maternity and work is picked up again in “The Man in a Suit Swooped Down”,
“instantly overwriting me –
too young, too female,
prone to milking myself in the stationery cupboard.
He played his pipe
and the younger men bounded after him
towards the promised land of timely introductions.
When we were alone,
something primal showed its teeth.
He wrenched my volume low until I swallowed my voice.”
There’s a reference to the “Pied Piper of Hamelin” in the second quoted stanza, appropriate for a mother thinking of fairy tales and nursery rhymes and finding herself separated from both baby and colleagues who have been dazzled by a man promises networking contacts and future advancement. Will she quickly slink away or will she stand her ground? I’ve not giving the ending away, but it doesn’t end happily for one of them.
“Return” sees her,
“All she can do is reclaim her desk and play her part,
clicking and writing and saying the right sorts of things,
holding on until half past five when she can return.”
It explores the unease at returning to an office which should be familiar and colleagues who haven’t changed much where she is expected to be the same person and carry on as if her maternity leave never happened. However, for her, she’s a new person undergoing a life-changing transformation from someone free of responsibilities to parent, who now has to work as if she is not a parent and parent as if she doesn’t have an office job.
One of the last poems, “Unfinished”, is about how music can evoke memories of her when “Rosin-fingered, a schoolgirl violinist/ watches the boy, his oboe aslant”,
“Decades later, while children dream,
she and he will hear these notes
electrify a winter evening. Suddenly alight,
they will find their former selves –
like tumbling back through the wardrobe
to find no time has passed.”
“Tumbling through a wardrobe” evokes C S Lewis’ Narnia. The implication is their shared past will forever be a connection, no matter how far from it they stray, either in geography or age.
“Faint” is a guided tour through office politics, growing up, becoming and parent and moving on through a friendly, welcoming voice. The apparent casualness belies the craft underneath the poems and suggests Lucy Dixcart is ready to produce a fuller collection.
“Faint” is available from Wild Pressed Books.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.