I am deeply moved by my latest read, Terry Tempest Williams‘ When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice. I came across an interview with the author on Guernica and was intrigued by the story and particularly the subject. Williams’ beautiful collection circles around the death of her mother and the painful discovery of her mother’s countless blank journals. As Williams’ tries to understand why she was left with so many questions, she delves into her memories only to realize the greater silence of women, the secrets of mothers, and the deeper untold story of womanhood that shadows the vast canon of literature.
Since my research considers the concept of womanhood within the works of specific women poets, I thought the book would offer me an interesting perspective. I have only just begun to read it, but the poetry of Williams’ language, her voice longing to understand the circumstances, and her discovery of herself and who her mother really was have indeed caught my attention. I’ve shared a quote that reflects these themes here, and I am sure I’ll have many more to memorable moments to post as I continue through this book.
I am only fifty-four years old, the age my mother was when she died. The questions I hold now could not have been comprehended when I was a woman in my twenties. I didn’t realize how young she was, but isn’t that the conceit of mothers – that we conceal our youth and only exist for our children? It is the province of mothers to preserve the myth that we are unburdened with our own problems. Placed in a circle of immunity, we carry only the crises of those we love. We mask our needs as the needs of others.
If ever there was a story without a shadow, it would be this: that we as women exist in direct sunlight only. When women were birds, we knew otherwise. We knew our greatest freedom was in taking flight at night , when we could steal the heavenly darkness for ourselves, navigating through the intelligence of stars and the constellations of our making in the delight and terror of our uncertainty. What my mother wanted to do and what she was able to do remain her secret.