When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother

Ampersand Books  2010

Melissa Broder’s When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother is a series of up-close and personal poems that all together offer a vision of growing into womanhood.
 These poems are about making mistakes, experiencing “firsts,” and learning lessons and are enveloped in humor and—for many readers, including myself—familiarity. In fact, some of them are the exact poems I attempted to write after significant moments and revelations in my own life. Alas, Broder has done a better job.
 In “At his Aunt Sheila’s house in Taos,” the narrator recalls a first urinary tract infection: “I was in pain the place I peed, but scared to say/... the truth was, if someone had told me: Urinate/after you have sex with him, hippie-rabbit, I wouldn’t have/lain there on the clay floor.” 
Similarly, poems about anorexia (“Prayer of the Teenage waif”), dealing with a boyfriend’s porn habit (“Why she lets him go to Reno and Sleep with whores”), and abortions (“Margaret Sanger Never Said”) all bear witness to a modern female experience in the US. 
For some, Broder’s Jewish poems resonate on an even deeper identity wavelength. In “We will find ourselves hating a blonde stranger,” she writes, “when the tow-headed strangers attended/our bat mitzvahs in schleppy paisley sundresses/we trembled big in black, with some appetite./What was expected of us but to stay sane?/Plenty of things. Abstain from honey-baked hams/Nantucket, seersucker, Volkswagen”
All together, the collection is a bunch of Ah-ha moments in poetry form. Melissa Broder has lived out what we all have, but she has found a way to successfully communicate the message in verse.

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