Mikela Bjork employs language with precision and practiced deftness to present an easy-to-cliché theme, motherhood, with rawness and sincerity. One of the first things that struck me, especially in “Cul de Sac”, is the specificity of Bjork’s descriptions. An example is the image of the mother walking to her car with everything from snacks to sunglasses dangling from her ‘octopus hands’. And I wonder about this non-hyphenated expression and I imagine, briefly, a woman with a live octopus where her hands should be before the image of an eight-handed goddess-figure from the Hindu pantheon takes over, only to be replaced as quickly by the Pasadena mother.
Bjork also uses the technique of contrast quite effectively through her poems. In “Cul de Sac”, we see the speaker contrasting the mother she is to the mother she had. “Puking, an exorcism” contrasts the experience of illness for the speaker’s son and for her as a child. “Defrosting” contrasts the experience of being a mother before and after separation from the partner. In combination, these poems show us a few shades of the many different ways to mother.
— Aswin Vijayan
The Bombay Literary Magazine
Cul de Sac
At a stoplight in Old Town I remember fucking
Kevin Key, the high school drug dealer,
on the passenger side of my mother’s puke purple
Honda Civic. Too stoned to pee before I pulled
my panties to the side and straddled his cock.
I rode him in the darkest cul de sac
between Fry’s Spring and the Cherry Hill Projects.
When I got home, I left the windows down
to air out the muddied cloth seats.
A half-assed fuck you
to my mother, too drunk to notice
I was gone.
I’m 41 and driving to a kid-centric consignment shop.
I call the owner before I pull up to say
I’m in the grey Volvo.
One like every Pasadena mom drives.
She says: I live in Pasadena. I’m a mom. I don’t drive a Volvo.
I can’t tell if she feels judged or is judging. This bitch
has no idea who I am.
Scholar, mother, whore. Always up for
I leave the windows down
on balmy February nights to air out
hot breast milk and toddler stank. I leave at 2:05pm:
car keys, snacks, water, coffee, phone, mask
sunglasses dangling from my octopus hands as I climb
onto the sun-warmed leather seat. An upgrade
from my borrowed high school whip.
Cruising up Lake Ave., moonroof open,
WAP on blast for 3 minutes, 7 seconds
until I reach my son’s Montessori cul de sac
first in line to pick up my kid—
That’s the kind of bitch I am.
Puking, an exorcism
This morning I rubbed my son’s back
while he puked peacefully
into an empty popcorn bucket
handing it to me
to do my magic
that only mommies can do
which is to say
I brought it to the kitchen sink
held my breath
turned my head
poured golden liquid bile
into the disposal
while he continued to watch cartoons
unfazed by the exorcism he just endured.
I run hot water down the drain
chasing the yellow stream down
a copper labyrinth
away, away, away.
When I was a child
puking was chaos.
An uncontrollable wave of dis/order
a neverending violent thrashing
a reminder of my own powerlessness.
When I was a child
I puked violently
I cried with overwhelm
until my tummy settled
while my head throbbed
against the cool toilet.
My son quietly pukes into a popcorn bucket
and returns to watching cartoons
smiling at me while I flush his excrements
away, away, away.
Holding his gaze, blue eyes and freckles
my sweet little bird
my sweet little sick bird
Safely snuggled into our nest.
There is no chaos here
away, away, away
Forced into withdrawal
I have denied you access
to (our) kids, to me,
steeled up, a fully armed fortress of one
I wake before the sun etches
through (our) dusty blinds.
I moved the bed so (our) headboard faces east
as if changing the direction of where I lay my head
will change the sorrow I feel upon wakening.
With a delicate reckoning
I move towards the cupboard.
Everything I do reminds me of how
I used to do it with you
closer to me.
Get your feet under you
a faint voice says as I
gather the children, pausing
the sadness, the chaos, the shock.
And so we walk, (our) children
leading with their nascent curiosity
inquiring about woodpeckers and hibiscus blossoms
the baby points— this, that,
is new through his eyes.
The sun beams down a numinous promise
which cannot penetrate me.
The vows (we) shared,
The lies you lived.
I yearn for us
to walk together
to witness life,
Forced into withdrawal
I am defrosting.
Image Credits: Roundmoor Drive, 2022. 200 x 300cm (78 3/4 x 118 1/8in). Reproduced here with the kind permission of the artist Caroline Walker and the Stephen Friedman Gallery. We would also like to thank Tamsin Huxford for facilitating the use of this image.
London-based artist Caroline Walker’s paintings often reveal women engaged in work. The paintings have that curious vitality and dynamism characteristic of the still life. It is as if we offer a glance and are gifted an insight. Nothing is accidental. The knives in Roundmoor Drive have placed themselves there because they have something to say.
The narrator of Mikela’s lead poem is in motion, however, and at the end we enter a stillness. This is my life, the poem seems to say. Mikela’s this-ness and Carloine’s this-ness seemed related to us, and so we decided to juxtapose them: two different perspectives, but offering perhaps, the same insight.
Author | MIKELA BJORK
Mikela Bjork (she/her) is a queer creative, scholar and mother. She is a tenured professor at the University of Redlands in the School of Education and the co-director of the Center for Educational Justice. Her poetry has been published in Intima: A journal of narrative medicine, and (forthcoming) Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts. Her creative non-fiction piece entitled, “How we Met” was a finalist in the 2022 Brooklyn Film and Arts Festival. Her writing centers around social (in)justice, identity formation, motherhood, womxnhood, capitalism and sexuality.