“You’ll need an umbrella for this” is a journey through girlhood, becoming an adult and parent, and the wisdom discovered and observations made along the way. It’s split into three parts, ‘Scattered showers’, ‘Heavy rain’ and ‘Thunderstorms’, with the first focusing on girlhood and growing up, the second becoming a mother and the third a broader picture of life.
The first section is about growing up as a girl. The poem “What are little girls made of?” starts with childish toys, enters the world of teenage dating and winds up with motherhood all with a refrain, “a hand up a skirt”. The sexual harassment and micro-aggressions that come on top of the usual childhood dreams and fears for girls. “Moonchildren” sees two besties born under the Zodiac sign of Cancer (known as moonchildren) “reading books we weren’t allowed to take out” at the local library and asking, “What were we looking for?”,
“that the fear we felt at fourteen
would grow weak, ice-crusted: would splinter
under the weight of hydrogen and helium, get smashed
to bits by the trash and debris of old space missions
floating around. The terrible fear that we wouldn’t love
– be loved – that we’d never quite be seen;
that our bodies would be pinched and probed and invaded,
flags stuck inside us in a race to claim our soft spaces.”
These teenagers fear not finding love, of settling with a life partner who returns love with violence and possession. Their hope is that these fears, drawn from what they seen happening around them, are not realised. These fears and the desire to be recognised and seen by any future partner shouldn’t be extraordinary, but, against a background of everyday sexism, they feel so.
The title poem comes from the second section, ‘Heavy Rain’ with a mother pushing a newborn in a buggy,
“No one can see me bleeding right here
on the street. They just say, ‘How’s the baby?’
as my spleen ruptures, my liver withers, twists itself
inside out. My gums shrivel up around my teeth,
which start dropping like rain. They form pearlescent
puddles for you to crunch through. The wave
surges up, up, up and breaks over the berth of my inner ear;
my eyes leak floodwaters, red with the bodies
of billions of crustaceans who meet a slow, wet end.
How ironic – to be a creature born of sea, dead by drowning.”
Sometimes called the fourth trimester, but mostly not spoken about, is the stage after delivery where a new mother is still bleeding after giving birth. However, she’s rendered invisible as the focus is on the new baby. Mothers are often feel as if they have to lose their former identity and just become ‘mother’ with even health visitors, midwives and doctors refering to her as ‘mum’ or ‘mother’ rather than using her name.
Later, with the baby grown and on the brink of adulthood, “Ladybirds”, considers how the mother/daughter relationship can fracture when a mother doesn’t understand what her daughter is trying to say,
“Some daughters come home from university
and tell their mothers about an abortion
– not theirs, not their not-baby – and the mothers say,
‘what a stupid thing to do.’ And they know, these daughters,
that they could never tell of their own not-babies,
if they did/didn’t have them. “
It’s not clear if the “stupid thing” is having an abortion or getting pregnant, but the mothers’ dismissive reaction tells the daughters not to tell, not to seek their mothers’ advice if they find themselves in that situation. As ever, blame lies on the daughters’ “stupidity” and never considers the man who got them pregnant. It won’t derail his studies if his girlfriend becomes pregnant. The daughters learn to keep secrets, separate from their mothers.
The final section, ‘Thunderstorms’ widens its focus and looks at lessons learnt. A TV channel specialising in programmes aimed at children features in “CBeebies has a lot to answer for” where a mother watching with a child develops a crush on a women presenter, which ends “I am in love/ with a woman who doesn’t know I exist,/ and sometimes I don’t know if I do.”
Later, “they say the ocean is on fire” takes the shape of half a child’s drawing of yacht, a tall triangular sail on top of a small bowl-shaped boat,
“another scar that won’t fade how can a calf cling to a mother
when the mother is harpooned how do the waves sink a dingy
how can our waves sink a dingy carrying twelve frightened
children how can we turn
them away at
our borders how does a wound heal at its borders
how does skin ravaged by words heal how clean
is your knife how swiftly can you run it from
your wrist to mine how can I stop you
leaving how did it already happen
how are there wildfires in
the arctic I don’t get
it at all please think
of the children “
There’s a double threat here: the distruption of becoming a refugee and the climate emergency, both of which have the poem’s speaker asking readers to consider what legacy we are leaving for children.
Victoria Richards has created a journey through girlhood to motherhood that invites readers to travel along though her humanity, humour, wry observations and recognisable scenarios. These lyrical poems want to share their stories and show what it is to be human. Their multi-layered approach rewards re-reading.
“You’ll need an umbrella for this” is available from V. Press.
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.
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