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If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears

If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears

Author: Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon

Publisher: Life Before Man, Gazebo Books

Published: September 2023

To call this remarkable collection merely an exploration of motherhood would be akin to calling Ulysses a travelogue. For in her frighteningly forensic poems on pregnancy, childbirth and being a new mother, West Australian-based poet, writer and teacher Natalie Damjanovich-Napoleon flies directly into the twin suns of the personal and the political. That she doesn’t perish is a miracle. That she returns laden with songs such as this one, doubly so: 

“I dream that pomegranate is sweet with dangerous fragrance, juice
slipping from the corners of Eve’s lips and chin, falling to the waiting earth.” 

(From A Brief History of Western Childbirth)  

The erotic echoes of the Song of Songs are unmistakable.  

Throughout – and this is one of the book’s most beautiful qualities – Damjanovich-Napoleon also finds kinship not merely with the mothers of mythology and our own troubled world, but with the non-human: 

“My heart is set to burst open, even skin feels compassion for the biting gnat,
the ants hefting toast crumbs. Creatures make copies of themselves to love.” 

(From Ghazal to a Mother’s Love)  

It’s a tiny world that ripples, in parallel with larger ruptures, through the collection – for example, we find in Phantom Pregnancy “Butterfly wings touch the insides of my belly”. 

There is pain aplenty, too, both physical (of course) and mental. In this we often sail into a Sylivia Plath-like realm of conflicted creativities: “Day after day wallpaper sheds layers, reveals a kind of madness”. 

Recalling Ukrainian-French dancer and philosopher Rachel Bespalof’s rhythmic, sensual theory and praxis, Damjanovich-Napoleon’s is a musical and embodied poetry. The putrefying corpse invaded by maggots finds its redemptive, magical twin in the living body pullulating with pupae. A fearless, formally promiscuous riff on the archetypal Madonna and Child (see the opening poem!), If There Is a Butterfly That Drinks Tears is a raw study of motherhood and its attendant scars in a figurative, sometimes literal, tempore belli.  

 

Reviewed by Will Yeoman

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