At dusk the light goes diffuse, like slow motion, like simple. The backyard trees are velvet; cirrus swift brushstrokes make the sky seem safe. The railroad rattling through the front yard slows too, whistle filtered through the gloaming until…
An essay about the few moments a mother has for herself requires brevity. As such, this piece about my mother’s short solitude each day is just over 500 words, focused on conveying her exhaustion after raising many children and her overwhelming grief about their addiction in just a few lines.
Much like poetry, flash requires the writer to choose details that quickly convey image and mood. To illustrate my mother’s psychological landscape, I focus on her fascination with bats, the creatures she seeks out during her solitude, those that are similarly spiraling and misunderstood, inhabiting land and sky, never fully claiming either. I also focus on the barren California landscape, as well as the decaying house with its litter of broken toys and breaking bodies. I want to share the loneliness she feels in her home, where her role is to nurture despite enduring brutality, as well as the difficulty of being a mother, where the work is often unseen and unacknowledged. To facilitate this, the essay fluctuates between external and internal landscapes, juxtaposing her lived reality with her emotional one.
The contradiction of motherhood—that it is “a lifetime of small miracles and abandonment”—structures the piece. I want to showcase the hope and hopelessness that comes from being a mother, as she helps children world-build while simultaneously having her own reality undone. Juxtaposing the beauty of the evening sky at dusk, the reassurance of the ground beneath her feet, and the lilacs that return each spring with the broken toys, California drought, mouth wrinkled from a lifetime of keeping it shut, I reveal the fraught role of motherhood. Even the setting itself embodies this contradiction—a moment of peace in the gloaming, sunset a soft comfort, though the act of throwing pebbles in the air to summon the bats is an illusion, a false peace.
Finally, I rely on repetition to establish cadence and content, creating rhythm to pull readers through the essay while also conveying my mother’s repeated disappointments in life, whether financial or emotional, as she parents many children over many years, watching as they each inevitably turn to addiction and violence despite how she tries to break the cycle.
SARAH FAWN MONTGOMERY is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018) and three poetry chapbooks. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery.