Review of Come to Me and Drink by Julie Brooks Barbour
Georgetown: Finishing Line Press, 2012. 21 pp. $12.00, paper.
In Come to Me and Drink, Julie Brooks Barbour illustrates the transforming experience of motherhood in an enlightening collection of poems that is raw and honest in its lucidity. The poems follow the speaker's relationship with her daughter from when her daughter is born to when she has a become a woman of her own, yet do so in an order that is not chronological, proving that maternity is not merely a stage of the speaker's life, but rather an altering experience that continues to change her long after her daughter is born.
The speaker's transformation extends beyond that of the physical realm, because while the speaker's body may heal after birth, her thoughts and outlook on the world have permanently adjusted to accept the responsibility of a child. The speaker realizes this in one of the first poems, "Panic Wheel," in which her daughter rides the ferris wheel with her father, but the speaker can only imagine it falling apart, "seats crashing into rock, / metal bars strewn across trees, / photos in the morning paper." Events previously innocuous to her become dangerous as she leaves her youth behind and enters a world in which her "roots [as a mother] grow deep." She experiences emotions altogether new for her, so much so that the names of rides she used to enjoy at a fairground change to reflect her fear and dread.
Faced with such accountability for the well-being of her daughter, the speaker accepts her new role as a mother and bids goodbye to her old self in "Starlings" in which "old desires rise up: / dancing, laughter, familiar faces from [her] youth." As she puts her daughter to sleep, so does she put away her past and who she was then, rocking "them to sleep with the baby." A bittersweet moment, it is also one of renewal as the speaker looks out the window to see where "the young birds outside are learning / to light on tree branches and shoot toward / the clouds." She takes comfort in her new journey, because like the birds she watches from her window, she learns that while her new role as mother may be frightening, it leads to heights she could never before imagine.
As she leaves her former self behind, the speaker identifies herself more and more as a mother and a mother only, because when she returns to the workforce, she speaks of herself in a disconnected tone. In "Leaving," she describes herself leaving for work as her "face search[es] for [her] infant /...[her] black heels scatter pebbles /...[her] hand lifts the car door's handle," referring to herself only by her body parts and what they are doing, a pattern that reveals just how fully she has morphed into the role of a mother. Separated from the person she was before, the speaker only retains parts of her former identity, parts that now seem foreign as she looks at her "face reflected in the rearview mirror: / lipstick, hairstyle-- / some other woman."
The speaker ponders these changes during a moment in front of the mirror in "The First Step" as she examines the way her body has changed through pregnancy and birth and thinks with nostalgia at who she was before. She remembers times before she became a mother and "how brilliant [her and husband's] bodies were in the moment of conception--" and deliberates on calling her "husband to bed" again, but hesitates, her "nipples red and sore...[skin still tender] under healed stitches." Her former self becomes a "puzzle" and rather than describing herself in parts as she does in "Leaving," she refers to her younger self as someone altogether separate--"the person."
The changes that the speaker undergoes are ones that she finds cannot be reversed, because as her daughter grows older, she finds it difficult to stand back and relinquish the closeness she used to have with her as a child. In "Mother, Child," the speaker's daughter is the focal point of her life just as she sits "centered...in a family photograph" and when the girl has become a "lovely young woman," she begins to live her own life much to the dismay of the speaker. Her daughter moves "outside [the speaker's] own anger and hope / she tends to flowers // in her yard, pruning and transplanting," as she begins to grow up and plant her own gardens, joke with her own friends, and live in a world outside that of her mother's. The speaker tries to gives her daughter space to grow, but the maternal instinct to love and protect is still there and despite her best efforts, she discovers that she "cannot be as distant as the moon / even though [she tries]."
By the time the collection comes to a close, the speaker has fully transformed into a devoted caretaker who cherishes each moment of motherhood from early morning feedings to lessons on how to hang laundry outside. While the role of being a mother is very much a sacrifice as the speaker describes in the title poem, "Come to Me and Drink," in which her child, while nursing, "plucks [her] dry," it is a responsibility that the speaker treasures and protects, because she finds solace and comfort in caring for her daughter and watching her grow.
Julie Brooks Barbour masterfully displays her speaker's journey through motherhood and does so with such stunning precision that each moment is at once, illuminating and poignant. Whether her speaker is nursing her child, rocking her to sleep, or watching her plant a garden when she is grown, Barbour encapsulates each moment and creates in them such weight that each poem in Come to Me and Drink become tiny discoveries into what it means to sacrifice and to love.
You can purchase Come to Me and Drink here.
Tawnysha Greene received her PhD from the University of Tennessee where she served as the fiction editor for Grist: The Journal for Writers. Her work has appeared in PANK, Bellingham Review, and Weave Magazine. Her first novel, A House Made of Stars, is forthcoming from Burlesque Press in 2015.