Untitled / Villanelle

I have often longed to see my mother in the doorway.’- Grace Paley
Because having a father made me want a father. – Sandra Newman

I have often longed to see my mother
tap-dance in a top hat like she did before he died –
having (had) a father made me want a father.

A mather / madder / mether is a measure
that keeps its shape & holds what’s stored inside –
I often see my mother.

Mistype the word it stretches to a fother
(a cartload carries fodder, hitched outside) –
a father made me.

You come to know the one against the other.
You measure till the meanings coincide.
I have often longed to see my father.

My mother’s  mother died before her daughter was a mother.
Alone, she gave me all she could provide –
(not) having a father made me want (to be) a father.

What am I to you? Mother? Father? Neither?
Like cells, names split & double, unified.
I have often longed to mother
mother father fother mather matherfother fothermather



Gail McConnell is a writer and lecturer from Belfast. Her first poetry pamphlet is Fourteen (Green Bottle Press, 2018). Fothermather (IS&T Press, 2019), her second, explores new parenthood and queerness. Gail’s poems have appeared in Poetry Review, PN Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Blackbox Manifold and elsewhere, and she is the recipient of two Arts Council Northern Ireland awards. Gail lectures in English at the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast and publishes criticism of Irish and British poetry.


Note: This poem appears in Fothermather which was joint winner of the 2017 IS&T Commission for new work. It was first published in Poetry Review (autumn issue, 2018).  You can order Fothermather from our shop: http://www.inksweatandtears.co.uk