Callista Buchen’s LOOK LOOK LOOK is a cohesive, full-spectrum contemplation of motherhood and the physical becoming of a mother. “Linea Nigra” begins with the lines, “This could be the poem about how the poem is a child and the / child is the poem, but that would be bullshit,” and ends by saying, “I am pieces. The body as / the poem, what won’t grow back.”
The collection’s perspective varies, switching from first person to second person to third person and back again, but the voice remains the same: biting and introspective. Moreover, it’s one story, a narrative split into five parts, following the you, the I, and the she after the birth of the first child, a miscarraige, the birth of the second, and the end of that phase of the speaker’s life.
As the first child is born in the poem “After,” the speaker lingers in a state of shock: “I can’t stop saying I’m sorry. I can’t stop saying oh God. Oh God.” She’s lost, only half there in the room, wishing there had been musicians, already losing track of the birth itself. She says, “I can’t remember the women / who took my voice or the blood that carried it away.” There’s a sense of absence in this first section as the mother’s body becomes a singular state once again, but there’s also a slip from autonomy. In “Mantra,” the speaker describes a group of mothers breastfeeding as if they are witches performing a blood ritual: “The bloodletting. Cream drips onto the floor.” The mothers say, “Your body is not your own.”
The speaker struggles to come to terms with that phrase. If “your body is not your own,” then what is? This concept is most fully addressed in the title poem, “Look Look Look”:
Later, I read that the cells of children move through the
placenta, latch on to the mother’s lungs, liver, brain, her skin.
the daughter’s cells, the cells of the new baby, the cells of the baby
that was lost. All the people of this body.
Through these lines Buchen encapsulates the speaker’s paradox: a mother’s body is a shared thing, necessary to bring forth and sustain other life, but only she feels the toll of living in a body that’s not solely her own.
At the same time, the speaker becomes more in tune with her physicality between the births of her first and second child, more aware of what must be done. Whereas there’s no poem for the first birth, only the confusion evident in “After,” we see the second birth in its entirety. In “Release,” the speaker says, “this time, I kneel on / the bed, face the wall. I growl and bear, my body yawning as the / son slips out.” With “growl and bear,” she gives over to an animalism that is both learned and instinctual, defying the doctor who insists upon caution after the fact. She is utterly in control.