Reviews, Vol. 4.3, Sept. 2010
U of Arizona Press, 2010
Camino del Sol: A Latina and Latino Literary Series
Perfect bound, 112 pp., $15.95
Review by Cynthia Reeser
To take the work of an artist, a writer, a creative professional, and to add children to the soup of this mixture and call it life, is what women the world over do, generation after generation, with no end to frustration and guilt and exhaustion and identity crises. For Carmen Giménez Smith, a professor, writer, and mother already, becoming a mother for the second time is replete with challenges but is —above all—rendered with honesty in her nonfiction book from the Camino del Sol Latina and Latino Literary Series from The University of Arizona Press, Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else.
Smith ventures beyond just writing the experience of balancing work with parenting with creativity, to what it means to be a mother through the experience of being a child. That connection of daughter with mother, itself age-old and fraught with challenges, is explored in the sense of embodiment: the word body is repeated throughout the narrative so frequently that I take note. Becoming a mother is to become rooted in the body and one’s own physicality as the body creates another body, another life: “The endless pulse of the pregnant body. The circular time of my body, my mother’s my daughter’s.” Once a child, then a mother, generation after generation.
As Smith writes of the gestation of the child within her womb, her own mother is gestating an embodiment within her, in the form of a brain tumor. Following the birth of her new granddaughter, Smith’s mother will undergo surgery to have the mass invading her body removed. The “birthing” of the tumor, the body, the creation of body, what the body means, motherhood as creation, and the child as objet d’art occupy the subject of the book’s title, “everything else.” In motherhood, there is no stone left unturned, no aspect of the woman’s life that is not upended. Life is never the same again.
Smith’s writing is focused, spare, fined down, honed to a point, and honest. But it is never confined; it is clear that writing for this author is an act of defining (the self, the art, life in general) and understanding. There is the reluctance to give over the self and all the nuances that word entails—writing, creativity, career, freedom—to motherhood, to the never-going-back irreversibility of it. Smith writes, after her daughter’s birth, after the bonding that takes place between mother and child, “And now my daughter knows my face. I can never leave and I can never die.”