Featured Poetry from JMI: Lesley Wheeler

Each issue of the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement includes a folio of poetry. JMI 5.2 Mothering and Reproduction featured poetry by Lesley Wheeler.

Wheeler's published collections include The Receptionist and Other Tales, Heterotopia, and Heathen. Wheeler’s new collection, Radioland, is forthcoming from Barrow Street Press in 2015. Her most recent scholarly book is Voicing American Poetry: Sound and Performance from the 1920s to the Present; she is also writing a study about twenty-first-century verse with the working title Taking Poetry Personally.

“While the dramatic crisis of motherhood unfolds memorably in Wheeler’s work, her poems nonetheless register confident ease and joy of expression, a clarity and eloquence that makes the poet a vibrant, deeply humane companion. Maybe the word for her brand of effortless grace is candor: no ornamental mask shields poet or reader from difficult truths about the shifting nature of our lives.”

—Jane Satterfield, Editor’s Notes


“Cells All Ringing” by Lesley Wheeler

It was not the sick shudder of a small plane, windshield

scratched, scenery blurred, or the snarl of a finger sliding

beneath an envelope flap. It was more like waking up

after a doze on a plastic raft, noticing the shore is far off

and the sky deep plum—not  terrifying yet, just enough time

to paddle in, pack up blankets and slowly rusting chairs,

children who are no longer small. Or it was like not

hearing a toddler babble about toy sharks beyond

a half-closed door, realizing you’ve been not hearing her

for a few minutes now. She suddenly became fourteen

and it’s dinner and she’s describing the pregnant girl in Earth

Science as she doesn’t eat her page of cod, scribbled with herbs

and strips of wine-poached pepper. I sort of admire

her, she says. She’s getting really fat now. You correct her,

unwarily: Not fat. A seven-month-belly is hard and full

of baby. And then rising tones behind her fully-closed

door. Daughter and friend emerge to ask, How far along

until you start to show? It turns out to be another

teenager, not your sensible girl whose slender left hip buzzes

with texts until stars vibrate in a perfectly dark,

dry night sky like messages, like fish in deep

water or the unnecessarily frightened passengers

on a small plane about to land. A shell’s secretive

murmur reminds you of the sea but is really your own

blood echoing through nearby coils. Sound reflected,

not by a mirror. By the whorls of your daughter,

loaded with mysterious cargo and about to launch.


(“Cells All Ringing” first appeared in Southeast Review)

Visit Lesley at lesleywheeler.org.


For more JMI folio poets and poetry, see: www.motherhoodinitiative.org/journalmotherhoodinitiative.html