In The House of the Riddle Mother, poem


In The House of the Riddle Mother


My mother kisses me
goodbye through friendly
plastic. She is melting
halfway down broken stairs
when I remember to shout
“Show me your real skin!”


At the labor clinic I wait
in line to birth my baby,
My mother befriends a homeless
woman in the waiting room.
I am strong, she tells me,
while this woman has nothing.
I’ll be fine, she says.

Shrieks of my birth pains
bring Ayezan, the Haitian midwife.
She tells me her real name is Ayinde;
I remember to breathe.
Two rooms down, my mother
comforts a stranger.


Two weeks overdue, my daughter
enters the world wrapped
in a pearly membrane stretched
across her face like a veil,
her Great-Grandmother’s

gift: a caul, a calling
to second sight, sailors’ charm
against drowning. Sicilian charm
against the malocchio,

a key to dreams.
I name her Sophia Marina,
wise woman of the sea.

–Maura Alia Badji

This poem was based on a dream I had following a miscarriage when I was six months pregnant in 1995. It was the fourth time I’d lost a baby. The numbered sections in the poem correspond to different scenes from the dream. The title is from the book of the same name by Clarissa Pinkola Estes; a copy of the book appeared in the dream.

My life seemed a particularly puzzling landscape at that time. My mother was living across the country from me. Her reaction to the news seemed bizarre at the time; she confessed she was relieved because I had been ill and she was worried I might die My husband at the time was not supportive during my pregnancy and was less so after the miscarriage; he responded to that event by getting a vasectomy.

The dream, while odd, gave me a quiet hope that perhaps one day I would indeed become a mother. At the time I thought that might come about through adoption. The day after I returned from the hospital I won a poetry prize from a writer’s conference I’d just attended. That news, along with the dream, seemed like a sign of my creative life going on and I took hold of my writing with both hands, publishing, doing readings, and getting into a graduate writing program.

Four years later I took part in a non-denominational ritual performed by a female priest and rabbi together with a Buddhist nun and a Muslim holy woman. Gathered together with over fifty other women, I named the baby I lost at six months Sophia Marina.

Eight years later, divorced and remarried, much to my surprise I gave birth to a son, Ibrahim Sean, named for two of his uncles. He was born with a partial caul. His father, a West African marabout, dancer/drummer and I are not together any longer. As I tell Ibrahim, some things in life have their own schedule and reason. I wouldn’t change anything that happened before his birth because each step brought me to him and made me his mother.

Have you ever received support and information in your dreams that helped you move on from a difficult period in your life or gave you comfort in some way? Have scenes from your dreams directly appeared in your writing or art work?

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