Zoë Etkin’s The Birth & Death of Girl explores the sacred cycle of life, death, surrender, & return—& she names it: motherhood. But Etkin is not interested in the dualistic or linear definitions that this word typically connotes. No, The Birth & Death of Girl breaks open this word, this role, so that the text becomes a matrilineal excavation of the divine; the entanglement of the feminine, the embodiment of spiritual & physical existence, as a map of trauma. By tracing her finger along the braided fragments of her mother’s womb, her grandmother’s, she finds the raw openings love & violence (sometimes occurring in the same moment of touch) can create within the self—how they grow (& sometimes fester) by moving through the world as woman. Etkin’s tender confessions during these discoveries allow for the question, the one so many of us fear/have feared, to arise as organically as the breath: how do I raise a “girl-child” in this world, & in this body, knowing what I know of pain? Etkin echoes the goddess spirits she invokes in her poetic invocations, & replies, “I will write her into my body—a blood narrative.” This gorgeous blood narrative allows a reclamation of womb, body, & trauma that is necessary to heal generations past & present.
What is the predominant feeling in Etkin’s The Birth and Death of Girl? So familiar I feel—along with her. Is it because I have a female form? Because I believe in mythos oriented around female (r)elations? (“We are a linked chain of matter and spirit.”) A spectrum of passions moans the cycle forward. Toward. Toward what? Birth. Whose birth? Hers. The fixation: hers. (“Women are closer to the earth—in myth, in history, and in gravity.”) A kind of light makes itself obvious when “birth, sex, and death, are the same violent orgasm.”
The face/s of (The Great) Mother. Spiritual modes necessarily include haunting. Such a sad, beautiful book. Robust with ranges of sensate correspondence mirror to mirror. A bar or a tea room full of varieties of female. So many women holding offspring (some their own some not their own). Holding—the point of the room. A tea hat with a shaved head under it. A tea hat atop of curls. Marguerite Duras, Bell Hooks, Colette—Marie Darrieussecq. Room full of every kind of woman—standing alone in the circle of women. Alone and also woven—bodily woven, physical-lineage woven, psychic impressions woven. “There is no language—my body beating against the membrane.” Each and every one (of us)—a doula. Portal or throughway The Mother’s matrix of secrets. Though the longing might be for it, it isn’t necessarily ease that gets us clear. “Black shell bodies shuffling my desires” until some form of matrilineal merger nears.
Zoë Etkin is the author of Cetacea Vaginae (forthcoming from Another New Calligraphy) and The Embodied Pregnancy Journal. She works as a doula and women's sexual health advocate, helping families navigate the spectrum of reproductive outcomes. Her writing can be found in Juked, Unlikely Stories, Broad Magazine, and others. To learn more about what Zoë offers, please visit: www.zoeetkin.com.