Mother, this house is full of babies. From the mouth of the kitchen I hear their cooing and from the top of the staircase I hear their cooing. I stand and hear their cooing from the living room. I…
My stories usually begin with poetry. I started “Wet” with images and fragments of language – the handing back of the babies, the gushing of milk. As a poet-turned-fiction-writer, I’m always asking myself these questions: How do I move beyond beauty in order to make meaning? How do I make the chemical reaction of story happen within this poetic container? How do I create a piece that balances the mythopoetic inner world of the mother and her memories with the physical outer world of lived consequences and reactions?
One of the main challenges of this story is that much of the action takes place in the past. I needed a way to bring that tension into the narrative present. I was stuck on this problem for a while. Once I figured out that the speaker was narrating an unsent letter to her stepmother, everything fell into place.
This story is surreal. It’s unclear whether the five mysterious babies are actually real – they certainly don’t act like normal babies – or whether their families are real, and whether the speaker actually undergoes a transformation at the end. The challenge with a poetic story is that if you get too surreal, the stakes tend to disappear. I wanted huge stakes in this story. I hope I struck the right balance – that regardless of whether the reader interprets these strange happenings as physically real, that they still function as a representation of the barrier to connection between mother and daughter.
For me, the tragedy of this story is that the mother does love her daughter more than anything. But her own pain, shame, and trauma make it impossible for her to truly connect. She believes that the best action she can take for her daughter is to get smaller – both physically and symbolically. She sees her daughter as perfect. She doesn’t want to mess her up.
She wants so badly to be a good mother. Breastfeeding is how she once bonded with her daughter, but once that part of mothering is over, she’s not equipped to have an emotionally connected relationship. She has two forces working inside of her: the desire to be a good mother, and the desire to be clean. As a mom myself – one who has struggled with disordered eating – I know that those desires are diametrically opposed. Mothering is beautiful, but it’s a mess. Mothering is blood, shit, piss, fat. Chaos. And unfathomable love.
JACLYN DESFORGES is the 2023-24 Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer in Residence at McMaster University and Hamilton Public Library. She’s the queer and neurodivergent author of Danger Flower (Palimpsest Press/Anstruther Books), winner of the 2022 Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry, and one of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s picks for the best Canadian poetry of 2021. She’s also the author of Why Are You So Quiet? (Annick Press, 2020), which was shortlisted for a Chocolate Lily Award and selected for the 2023 Toronto-Dominion Bank Summer Reading Club. Jaclyn is a Pushcart-nominated writer and the winner of numerous awards, including the 2018 Royal Bank of Canada/PEN Canada New Voices Award. Jaclyn’s writing has been featured in literary magazines across Canada. She holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia’s School of Creative Writing and is working on a novel. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @jaclyndesforges.