Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire

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Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth Summary

The epigraph of Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, which refers to the speaker’s facial features as connected to her parents’ appearances and relationship, suggests the importance of family and identity. The thirty-eight-page volume contains twenty-one titled works. Along with nineteen poems, there are two prose pieces: “Maymuun’s Mouth,” which follows the poem “Things We Had Lost in the Summer,” and “Conversations about Home (at the Deportation Centre),” which follows the poem “Questions for Miriam.” The volume concludes with a page containing endnotes and a biographical sketch of the author.

The first poem, “What Your Mother Told You after Your Father Left,” is three lines long. As with many of the other poems, the identity of the speaker is not established; in this case, the addressee’s relationship to the speaker also remains unstated. The addressee’s mother seems to be the poem’s speaker; she states that she begged God to not let her husband leave, which was the reason she did not beg the man—the addressee’s father—to stay.

In “Your Mother’s First Kiss,” the speaker seems to be the mother’s child, who is reflecting on what her mother told her. The mother’s memories of her first kiss include information about the future activities of the boy who kissed and sexually assaulted her. The boy later raped women during a war. That memory and knowledge are connected to a recent occurrence when the mother, accompanied by the child, saw the man on a bus.

In “Things We Had Lost in the Summer,” the speaker, who seems to be female, recalls being twelve years old and visiting with her female cousins after they returned from a trip to Nairobi. In focusing on the changes—such as puberty—that they experienced, the speaker mentions her mother’s attitude and her differences from her cousins.

“Maymuun’s Mouth” is a profile of one woman, assembled from her phone calls and photographs sent home. Her new life in another country includes smiling and dancing. The speaker conjectures that speaking a “new tongue” may include romance with her Spanish-speaking Dominican neighbor.

“Grandfather’s Hands” presents the intimate, imaginative physical relationship of a man and woman, who later became the addressee’s grandparents.

In “Bone,” the speaker, apparently female, addresses another person, perhaps her husband, about the presence of a fifteen-year-old girl staying in their home. He has claimed that he wants to save her, as she has been abused by her father. The speaker is concerned, however; she states, “I can hear you in our spare room with her.”

“Snow” is about the speaker’s parents at the time of their marriage. She states that her father was a drunk, and she imagines their wedding night. He speaks to his bride about snow, which he had seen in Russia; it becomes a metaphor for female sexuality.

“Birds” is also about a wedding night. It relates the way that Sofia, a friend of the speaker, fooled her husband and mother-in-law into thinking she was a virgin.

“Beauty” presents the speaker’s older sister, whose haunting memories make her scream at night. The poem is concerned with teenage sexual activity; the sister (who, as a teenager, had slept with a married man) warns the speaker against sexual activity, because boys are “haram”—forbidden by Islamic law (according to the endnotes).

“The Kitchen” uses spices, fruits, and flavors to evoke the relationship between sex and food as the speaker wonders about her husband’s affair.

“Fire” consists of three sections, each of which are between six and nineteen lines long. In all three, a male speaker seems to be reflecting on recent and past events. In section 1, he considers his former partner’s actions after he “was made to leave” his home because he hit his partner; section 2, also concerned with that day, describes a random encounter in an elevator. Section 3 relates a remembered story from his...

(The entire section is 1,196 words.)