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Motherlung / Lisa Marie Brodsky


By: Lisa Marie Brodsky

Lisa Marie Brodsky is a bright new voice in the world of poetry. Her passion to confront the living and the dead leads her to an evocative elegy to her mother. In one of her best lines, she says, "each daughter owns a syllable in the universe.” Brodsky owns many more than one. Linda Gray Sexton author of Half in Love: Surviving th...
ISBN 978-1-908836-89-2
Pub Date Friday, July 18, 2014
Page Count 96
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Lisa Marie Brodsky is a bright new voice in the world of poetry. Her passion to confront the living and the dead leads her to an evocative elegy to her mother. In one of her best lines, she says, "each daughter owns a syllable in the universe.” Brodsky owns many more than one.
Linda Gray Sexton
author of Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide and 
Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back To My Mother, Anne Sexton

In this wise and intimate book, Lisa Marie Brodsky tells the story of a life, embracing love, sorrow, loss, memory, and hope. As the book moves through childhood, Brodsky's poems open to the reader, sharing the enduring bond that exists between a mother and child. Beyond, in the adult world, the poems explore the loss of that mother and the adult loves that follow. Brodsky's poems are sometimes headlong, sometimes contemplative and deep, but her unsparing approach to both pain and love makes Motherlung a powerful book, one you must read.
Jesse Lee Kercheval
author of Cinema Muto, Dog Angel, and World As Dictionary

The poems in Motherlung are fiercely present though they, in large part, concern absence and loss.  Brodsky artfully use the small gesture, the  evanescent detail, the “unspoken,” to illuminate the mother-daughter bond, the boundaries of self and the transformative power of grief  until it is as if she has “lit every candle in the room.”  This  is a remarkably engaging and powerful book.
Beckian Fritz Goldberg
author of Egypt from Space, Reliquary: New and Selected Poems, and Lie Awake Lake

Lisa Marie Brodsky

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Lisa Marie Brodsky was the Martha Meir Renk Graduate Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received an M.F.A. in Poetry in 2005. She has been featured on Madison Public Radio, WISC-TV, and in Madison Magazine. Her poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction have been published in The North American Review (as a finalist for the James Hearst Poetry Prize), Circle Magazine, The Southern Ocean Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Verse Wisconsin, Pirene’s Fountain, among others. She is the Wisconsin Director for the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and writes about the illness in her poetry chapbook, “We Nod Our Dark Heads” (Parallel Press, 2008). Brodsky works in Madison, WI as a vocational assistant for adults with disabilities and lives in Evansville, WI, with her husband and three stepchildren.

Can’t Stop What’s On Its Way

This is not to say 
I have not hated her.
She scrubbed my five-year-old face
as my body fought her clutch.
I cursed her in my teens, when pen and paper
were my only comrades.
Phones slammed down so hard in my twenties
that receivers cried out from the sting.

January of ’06: she calmly says they found
a mass on her lung.
We go to brunch, surreal to gather
Eggs Benedict and slices of cantaloupe onto our plates.
It’s only while I drink my orange juice
that she says the word “cancer” 
and everything sours.

The singe of cigarettes, clear plastic 
tail of the wrapper lies on her kitchen table. 
She has not quit.
Gramma’s pink alligator-skin case still sits
on Mom’s bedside.

Perhaps it’s not hate I feel just then, 
though she shrugs when I ask, “why?”
It’s that shrug, that helplessness I hate –
such ignorance keeps her car driving
toward the broken bridge,
blazing bodies lying haphazardly
at the bottom of the cliff. 


The rosebuds did not open this year
and you began to suspect.

The wind at your back
felt more like a push.

Balloons that filled the sky
like swollen swallows

saddened you because
it took such inhalation, such 

exhalation. You decided to do 
everything in and out, to copy 

the breath and everything up
and down, to copy the chest.

But the cough, which catches you
by surprise each time,

gives you away and the head scarves 
in your wardrobe tell your secrets.

The Mother Who Wasn’t

Childless, I hold countless
children inside. This month I bleed 
an extra blood-letting due to confused 
hormones and wonder 
if I lose them in each clot, 
but they remain hushed
like chanting nuns

Red makes me feel the most blue. 

I remember Mom telling me at twelve
that I bleed to bear babies and I imagined
baby after baby slipping from my uterus
as I fainted on a starch-white bed. 

Now, with husband and stepchildren, 
I am busy with 
dishes, homework, the occasional cough syrup,
and bedtime books.

Afterward, I lie still in bed. The moon’s pull
tugs at me through the east window.
It wants babies and calls for the ocean’s 
current to rock me toward birth,
but the blood continues 
to break against the tides
each month.

I cannot give birth to my stepchildren
and make them mine. Though I learn to love,
delight, and eventually, sacrifice,
I still hear my parallel universe: 

babies crying
their vowels to me, 
babies listening to their heartsick mother 
call out their unused names. 

Copyright © 2014 Lisa Marie Brodsky
Review: Motherlung reviewed by Issa M. Lewis

The idea of what a mother should be is often romanticized in popular thought.  Images of the perfect mother—ultra-organized, fierce protectors of their children (but never taking it so far as to appear unfeminine)—have been slathered over primetime television since its inception.  However, Lisa Marie Brodsky shows us in Motherlung that mothers can also be fragile, scarred, and struggling.  This dichotomy both strains and strengthens the mother/daughter relationship Brodsky skillfully renders in her poems, ultimately leading the speaker out of grief and into her adult life as a stepmother.

The tone of conflict is set through the titles of the book’s four sections: Mothership, Warship, Griefship, and Stepship.  The speaker’s mother has endured divorce, rape, and now faces a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.  Each of these instances affects the daughter as much as it does the mother, and their relationship becomes a pair of magnets set on end: attraction and repellent at once.

Brodsky illustrates this tricky relationship that develops between the speaker and her mother after the mother’s rape in “The Mother Inside the Daughter”:

As years passed
and her senses returned
I helped her stand up, learned to walk,
say the word “trust” again.
I raised her as she raised me.
I lived her fear as she lived
her own, her trepidations,
her protectiveness.

Some would go so far as to say
that, in my twenties,
they couldn’t tell the daughter
from the mother.  One had swallowed
the other.

And yet, despite their fraught relationship, the speaker and her mother have genuine love for one another.  They support each other, teach each other, and learn from one another through the mother’s illness and eventual death.  The mother’s love, while humanly flawed, comes from a place of genuine caring, as is evidenced in “Pacifier”:

It’s 8:00 in the morning—
the hour I’d call her
to start my day.

If we had time now to talk,
she’d list the food I need
to fill my empty fridge.

You need to clean once in a while, too.

“But I’m tired, Ma.  I miss you.”

Don’t use me as an excuse to slip away.

As Brodsky shows us here, even in death, a mother wants only what is best for her daughter.  At first, it appears the speaker, who yearns to be a mother herself, only acknowledges this relationship in the biological sense.  Eventually, however, she finds herself in a new marriage with three young stepchildren—a situation that, while not the ideal she has been dreaming about, teaches her more about mothering than she could have imagined.  Brodsky shares these realizations in “What the Stepmother Gives”:

Stepmothers pass down
the ability to bend,
adjust, adapt.
She stretches a child’s heart
to include one who might not
have birthed her
or handed down a beauty mark
on the tiny bottom;

she is the last piece 
in a disjointed jigsaw puzzle.

As Brodsky beautifully demonstrates, the concept of motherhood is actually fluid; as the title of the book implies, a mother is someone who breathes life into her child—biological or not—and sustains her.  While it may also become easy to grow dependent on that sustenance, a mother continues to give it until the child grows into an independent force, a mother in her own right.

Issa M. Lewis holds an MFA in poetry from New England College.  She was the recipient of the 2013 Lucille Clifton Poetry Prize from Backbone Press, and her poems have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies.  She also serves as an assistant editor for Trio House Press.

Interview:  Lisa Marie Brodsky discusses Motherlung on Channel3000 Television (September 2014)

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