Editor's Note

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

a bargain.

 

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

 

gagging

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

through tears

 

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

chaos away

away, away, away

 


 

Defrosting

 

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,

 

this— everything

is new through his eyes.

 

The sun beams down a numinous promise

which cannot penetrate me.

 

The vows (we) shared,

The lies you lived.

 

And yet

I yearn for us

 

to walk together

to witness life,

 

together.

 

Forced into withdrawal

I am defrosting.

Acknowledgments

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.

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