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Caribbean-American Poet Aja Monet
Photo Credit: gal-dem magazine

 

My Poetry Corner May 2020 features the poem “for the mothers who did the best they could” from the poetry collection, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter (USA, 2017), by Caribbean-American poet Aja Monet. Born in 1987 in Brooklyn, New York, to Cuban and Jamaican immigrants, Monet is a cofounder of Smoke Signals Studio, a political safe-haven for artists and organizers in Little Haiti, Miami. She facilitates a workshop “Voices: Poetry for the People” in collaboration with Community Justice Project and Dream Defenders. She currently lives in Miami, Florida.

Monet’s mother raised her and two siblings with little help from their absentee father. In the “Author’s Note” of her poetry collection, Monet notes: My mother was a freedom fighter and so were her mother and her mother’s mother. I witness their movements in this world and it informs my own, their labor to love and live freely, their joy and their pain, the magic and madness… I dream of a world where no mother regrets, no mother resents, no mother buries her child. 

In her 2017 interview with Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept, Monet said that the title poem, “my mother was a freedom fighter,” traces “the trajectory of women who have nurtured and who have had to take care of other people and raise society and raise cultures and raise civilization.” In the fifth and sixth stanzas of the twelve-stanza poem, the poet recognizes the multitude of mothers who labor to nurture and care for their families:

she is an archipelago of shanty towns, she is invention and
necessity. found scraps, a bouquet of bloody music in her
hands. cane of sugar, leaves of tobacco, a cluster of bananas,
coffee beans, the husk of corn, a poppy seed, tea shrub, spikelet
 

of wheat, rice flower, gold nuggets, diamonds & coltan—she is
an incantation bellowing from the fields and mines. look for her
in the ruins, at the funeral procession, drunk off palm wine,
screaming in a traffic of arms. lonely, but not alone
 

In the featured poem, “for the mothers who did the best they could,” composed of thirteen stanzas, the poet shares her own difficult relationship with her mother, of the  cross-fire carnival of childhood. But she loved them and did the best she could with life’s trauma and decisions. There is much pain in Monet’s poem. There is also much love and appreciation of their shared experience as women. The excerpts below are stanzas one, three, seven, and thirteen.

she does not know we are sisters
even it be years we don’t speak
on my spirit, sacred as a smile that survives
a good cry, I hold her close
 

[…] 

in a long while, since two open palms ago
praying or holding a framed memory
i am somebody’s daughter again,
i speak like i belong in her echo,
 

[…] 

a single mother alone
making do with what may
what madness comes of survival of the fittest
if spirit prove we reach beyond
 

[…] 

i cannot tell the difference
between her wailing and mine
my mother does not know
we are sisters
 

To read the complete featured poem and learn more about the work of Aja Monet, go to my Poetry Corner May 2020. 

On this Mother’s Day, I dedicate the featured poem to all the working mothers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.