The following poem, “Ode,” was written by Elizabeth Alexander. Alongside Maya Angelou, she is arguably the most prolific African American female poet of our time. In this poem, she affirms truth about women, specifically mothers — about who we are and what we do.
I love all the mom bodies at this beach,
the tummies, the one-piece bathing suits,
the bosoms that slope, the wide nice bottoms,
thigh flesh shirred as gentle wind shirrs a pond.
So many sensible haircuts and ponytails!
These bodies show they have grown babies, then
nourished them, woken to their cries, fretted
at their fevers. Biceps have lifted and toted
the babies now printed on their mothers.
“If you lined up a hundred vaginas,
I could tell you which ones have borne children,”
the midwife says. In the secret place or
in sunlight at the beach, our bodies say
This is who we are, no, This is what
we have done and continue to do.
We labor in love. We do it. We mother.
When I read this poem slowly, punctuating each word with a period in my mind, I hear the universal voice of women who have chosen to be mothers. I hear that courageous voice assert:
Lovely has permission to slack, slope, and be sensible.
Sacrifice is always something lost and something nourished.
And, that most women believe, if even for a few moments, in the dark or in the light, that our bodies speak entirely about who we are. But it is our inherent responsibility to correct that assertion with a gentle pause and powerful insertion of the word, no.
Our bodies do not encompass the whole of who we are. Rather, our bodies more accurately say, “This is what we have done and continue to do.”
I encourage you to take a few minutes to yourself and slowly reread the words. I’d love to hear what this poem awakens you to believe.
Here is a simple prayer to close: Father, in our battle to reclaim truth about what is beautiful, help us choose to celebrate who we are, what we have done, and how these bodies have sustained us to labor in love.