The Stories Our Mothers Don't Tell Us

A Poetry Mixtape Edited by Joanne Epp

Joanne's Liner Notes

For most of us, our earliest human relationship is with our mothers, and for the first years of our lives it’s often the most intimate. And yet, there are many reasons why we might find it a challenge to really know our mothers well.

My mother grew up on a farm, in a very large family, back when housework and farm work involved a lot more manual labour. I grew up in town, with only one sibling; I now live in a city, and have a washer and dryer and dishwasher. And so, even though her birthplace and mine are only 15 kilometres apart, there was a marked difference between my mother’s world and mine. When she tells me stories from her childhood she sometimes remarks, “You probably can’t even imagine that.”

Several of the poets in this collection have mothers who grew up in another country altogether, within a different language and culture. Although the child may know something of the mother’s country, they can never know it in quite the same way. Even learning the mother’s language can, paradoxically, emphasize the distance between mother and child. Then, too, a mother may have reasons to keep things from her children. She may carry memories of trauma she doesn’t want to relive. Or it may simply be that—deliberately or not—she holds a part of herself separate, distinct from the day-to-day duty and stress of mothering.

It can take a long time till we’re ready to hear our mothers’ stories, and these poems illustrate the many ways in which both telling and listening can be complicated. When we’re growing up, we don’t necessarily pay attention to our mothers as people; we see them more in terms of what they do, or don’t do, for us. Even when we are ready, hearing what they have to say may call for patience, and a willingness to hear difficult things. Their stories are often told indirectly, and some stories are not told at all, but left for us to piece together on our own.

Yet these poems also reveal how it’s possible to recognize our mothers as people in their own right. Differences in temperament and upbringing, in ways of seeing and living in the world, don’t have to be obstacles. Like the daughter in Doyali Islam’s “bhater mondo,” we may not know how to cook like our mothers, but we can hold tightly to their stories.

The Poems

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