In this new series, the staff of The Fourth River comb back through our archives to find and share with you the pieces they believe deserve a second look.
–by Tess Wilson, The Fourth River Staff
During the process of poring over a substantial stack of back issues, the poetry editors of The Fourth River were forced to make some tough decisions when it came to our selections for the first online issue. Because we were unable to include every single one of the many poems we had the pleasure of revisiting, many of our favorites remain in their original issues, patiently awaiting a visit from a curious reader. Still nestled in Issue Eight is Dilruba Ahmed’s “Fugue of New Motherhood,” and upon reading it again, I was immediately reminded of the many reasons I had dog-eared its page in the first place. At first glance, this is a delicate poem about childbirth and motherhood. A second look, though, reveals details that complicate this poem considerably.
What struck – and still strikes – me most about this poem is the refrain. Phrases beginning with “That body is…” are repeated, albeit with slight adjustments and evolutions, throughout the poem. Even regardless of context, this repetition is intriguing. However, when one considers the relationship being addressed, these phrases suddenly complicate the poem. The hum of the “That body is…” refrain grows louder and louder at each iteration from the new mother and, by the fifth stanza, and therefore the fifth refrain – this time with an eerie adjustment, reading “That sleep is not mine” – it has become an ineffective lullaby. The abrupt stanzas, stunted by their respective repeated phrases, keep the reader from being completely lulled. With this, the poet introduces a tension that allows us a refreshingly honest approach to childbirth and motherhood. This particular tension is increased exponentially in the last two stanzas, in which the delicate balance of mortality is introduced. The poem reads:
I sleep only
in whatever time is
left once I’ve studied
his chest for the faintest
rise and fall
The parting note of the poem serves not only as an amplifier for the tension introduced through repetition and form – it also acts as a testament to the poem’s title. The word “fugue” has two definitions, one of which classifies it as a piece of music made up of small, often repeated or slightly altered, phrases that weave in and out of the larger piece. There is no doubt that this poem is fugue-like in its construction, and its musical qualities only add to its beauty. However, the second definition, when considered with this poem in mind, offers us a concept that, once again, complicates. The second definition of the word “fugue” suggests a split from personal identity. Immediately, the repeated phrase becomes more than a refrain in a hauntingly honest lullaby. With repetition comes insistence, and when we consider the poem’s title, this phrase seems to insist upon the separation of mother and child. Again, the poet addresses a concept that is common in a discussion of parenthood – that of sacrifice – in an unexpected way.
It was the delicate beauty of Dilruba Ahmed’s “Fugue of New Motherhood” that caught my attention initially, but it was these complications that kept it lodged in my mind long after our selection process was over. On its sparsely populated page, this poem accomplishes so much that a second look is not only encouraged, it is required.
Tess Wilson is a Kansan who has transplanted herself into the hills of Pittsburgh while she pursues her MFA in Creative Writing. Her poetry can be found in Inscape and NEAT, and she is serving as an Associate Editor at The Fourth River. She is a big believer in dirt, sterling silver jewelry, dogs, and breakfast.