Ma­trona­lia by A.B. Dil­lon


“A mother is a recorder, a jour­nal, an il­lim­itable, con­stant aper­ture. We are seers, voyeurs of the worst or­der,” writes A.B. Dil­lon in Ma­trona­lia. Her first col­lec­tion of prose po­ems, in which a mother ad­dresses her ado­les­cent daugh­ter, is in­deed an act of wit­ness­ing. Part con­fes­sion, part trea­tise, part ral­ly­ing cry, it is as com­pli­cated and frag­mented as moth­er­hood it­self.

The mother re­calls her daugh­ter’s child­hood, some­times with a sense of joy­ful tri­umph, other times with ap­pre­hen­sion, and still other times with a “mud­slide of re­morse.” The braid­ing of hair, a shame-faced exit from a school­mate’s birth­day party, the bak­ing of a pie—these shared mo­ments are si­mul­ta­ne­ously or­di­nary and

mo­men­tous. To the nar­ra­tor, moth­er­hood is a con­tra­dic­tion. “As your mother, I am al­most al­ways just about to run scream­ing through the streets to find you,” she con­fesses, af­ter a dream she has lost her daugh­ter. On the next page, her ap­proach is more re­strained: “I aimed to teach you I would not res­cue you.” She of­fers her daugh­ter much in the way of ad­vice—on sex, love, and self-preser­va­tion—but later ad­mits,

“When I of­fer you ad­vice, I am al­ways hop­ing for you to dis­agree.”

The po­ems in Ma­trona­lia are with­out ti­tles, which makes for a fluid read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as nar­ra­tives, im­ages, and themes resur­face through­out the col­lec­tion. Some po­ems span en­tire pages, oth­ers con­sist of a few lines. Some ma­te­ri­al­ize in para­graph form, while oth­ers ma­nip­u­late line breaks and spac­ing for em­pha­sis. There are po­ems that end mid-thought, as though the mother has sim­ply for­got­ten what she was go­ing to say, a de­vice that feels sat­is­fy­ingly true to life.

Dil­lon writes in an un­adorned and lu­cid voice pep­pered with the oc­ca­sional burst of lyri­cism. A crow’s call is “onxy zealotry,” the mother’s chest rat­tles with “can­non-fire fear,” and the daugh­ter is as plucky as “an aria in a mar­ble cham­ber.” She uses metaphor lib­er­ally, though at times, it feels bulky. The daugh­ter’s se­crets, for in­stance, are com­pared to birds that might fly from her chest, only to be cap­tured and killed, their feath­ers plucked by an imag­ined suitor. The nar­ra­tor’s wry sense of hu­mour sparkles through­out. “I never thought miss­ing Tup­per­ware lids would bring me down,” she muses.

Her guilt is linked to a mys­te­ri­ous ge­netic ill­ness, which causes lock­jaw, de­pres­sion, os­si­fi­ca­tion, and the growth of ex­tra ribs. The nar­ra­tor probes the ill­ness’s pathol­ogy, link­ing its on­set to the birth of her daugh­ter. “You have in­fected me,” she claims. “I was asymp­to­matic un­til I had you.” Is the ill­ness moth­er­hood it­self? The ques­tion might not mat­ter, as Dil­lon bears wit­ness to the many ways in which moth­er­hood trans­forms a woman’s mind and body—some­times beyond recog­ni­tion.

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