How do we return to hope?
on “a child growing inside the mothering womb” by John Compton
A cloud the moment before rain. The seed of action in the second before movement. A pregnant pause before the unacknowledged is said aloud – or not, and forgotten as a new decision is made by someone else. How do we return to ourselves in the moments we want to embody our desires, longing for change, and ideas in a time when we look around at the world and feel powerless? By reading poems, of course!
I read the micro-chapbook “a child growing inside the mothering womb” by John Compton on a grey Seattle day sitting on the porch of the Sun & the Moon House, the home on the South side of the city that I had just moved back to. Just a few days ago it was a false summer, hot and filled with sun, before the clouds and a chill returned. As I read Compton’s poems about the uncontrollable desire for connection, love, and positive change the poems burst their forms and became more than words on my computer screen: The poems became the perfect encapsulation of a in-between wanting I struggled to find my own words for, and a comforting arm around my back as I sat inside the transitional moment that had reared its head once more.
The chapbook appears to be set in such a transitional moment. A speaker, unable to sleep, explores "the little abilities of nightwalking." He "remembers/remembering the moon" and looks backward to rediscover things that were thought to be lost. Compton does not call the reader to take action, but to linger inside their own bodies and memory even when it is painful to do so.
The poem that most struck me on the day of the New Moon in Cancer, an emotional time perfect for considering the steps between intention and action with a focus on mothering and home-making, was “the moon is a small red slit which looks like the bottom lip of a bitten smile.” The personified moon begs for release in the form of rain, desiring that ultimate catharsis from the sky. In this series of poems, the speaker longs for the impossible and enacts it through the sheer will of desire: In “winter poem,” a corpse unable to reach into its own mouth in the frost still speaks his impossible “ruptured poem.”
And how does Compton propose we continue forward despite fear, uncertainty, and the unavoidable gloom of the past? Interspersed with images of maggots, decay, storms, and bloodshot eyes are queer love, connection, and the body. “we/create a hurricane too vicious/& close the highway so there is no clear path,” he writes in “doors, doors, doors,” but even in the manmade dystopia of these poems, the speaker “reads the signs/like scripture” and trusts when “light comes out our mouth/each time we scream.” The chapbook inspired me to recognize how dire the world feels at times but to trust the instinct to continue reaching out with care and the power we hold when we come together.
You can download a copy of “a child growing inside the mothering womb” from Ghost City Press, where it was a selection for the 2020 Summer Series.
If you liked this, check out my review of the poetry book "A Hundred Lovers" by Richie Hofmann! You can also like, comment, or subscribe to my content here on Vocal or leave a tip! Thank you.
Joe Nasta (ze/zir) is a queer writer and mariner based in Seattle. Joe is one half of the art and poetry collective Eat Yr Manhood with Cass Garison. Zir first book can be read for free on issuu and zir work has been published in The Rumpus, Entropy, PRISM International, Peach Mag, and others. Ze co-curates a zine of unconventional art and writing at stonepacificzine.com and is currently part of the 2022 Collective Autonomy in Practice Cohort with the Operating System/Liminal Lab.