2019 Marlene Mountain Memorial Contest
bipolar mother’s monochrome smile
Maternal mental illness is a subject that seems to be hushed up in our culture.
Especially in today’s mommy wars where mothers are pitted against each
other in seemingly every way: who has the cleanest house, who breastfed the
longest, who birthed without medication, who provides organic home cooked
meals three times a day, who stays home, who works outside the house,
whose children watch the least amount of TV … and on and on it goes. When
under all the pressure, womxn have an identity that goes far beyond the role
of “mother”. There are hopes, dreams, goals, desires and personal struggles
existing alongside all those parenting responsibilities, which is uncomfortable
for some to accept.
The thought of a mother struggling with bipolar disorder, or any mental
illness such as depression or anxiety, while trying to care for her children is
heartbreaking and more common than people realize. So much is said here in
so few words. An entire world is laid out bare of a mother doing her best to
get help but in the process is stripped of her personality, as it so often happens
with mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. Her children have
lost her and she herself.
This monoku struck a chord with both of us not only for the subject matter
but for its craftsmanship. In this piece there is room left for the reader to
decide whether the poet’s mother is bipolar or the poet is the bipolar mother,
as the senryu can be broken up (bipolar / mother’s monochrome smile) or
read as all one phrase. Although, had she used “the” at the beginning ([the]
bipolar mother’s monochrome smile), it would have solidified one meaning
and you wouldn’t get all that blank space we love in Japanese short forms.
What a difference one word can make.
A poignant and timely senryu for today as mental health awareness is
ever-increasing as is the fight to keep medical care available to all.