the mother

Brooks, Gwendolyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Apr-17-2001


The speaker begins by declaring that "Abortions will not let you forget," and goes on to problematize the question of aborted life. These are "singers and workers who never handled the air" and whom the mother ("you") "will never scuttle off ghosts that come." The speaker has heard in the wind the voices of her "dim killed children" and has suffered because of it.

She unequivocally looks at the fact that the children have been killed, cut off from life before having a chance to experience it. The speaker meditates (in direct address to the children) on the "crime" and whether it was hers or not, saying that "even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate," and declaring that despite her having "stolen" their births and names, that "I loved you all."


A poem that both pro-life and pro-choice groups have championed at different times, "the mother" eludes easy interpretation, but provides an important look at the problems and issues involved in the abortion debate. The fact that a poem about abortion is entitled "the mother," is itself intriguing.

This is a poem about loss and about the attempt of the mother to revivify the dead children while at the same time acknowledging that they are dead by her choice. The mother directly addresses her dead children and, in so doing, brings them back to life, although only momentarily (for it is only the mother's words keeping the children present in the text). Although the mother acknowledges that they have never been alive, and have never had the chance to know the pleasures other children know, she continues to love them.

Is the mother's suffering outweighed by her "deliberateness" (one assumes there were compelling reasons behind these abortions)? If abortion is a killing and a robbing (as the speaker asserts), what are we to make of her deliberateness (that wasn't deliberate)? This poem is nicely paired with Lucille Clifton's the lost baby poem (see this database).


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