Emily Borgmann's "From the Splinter in Her Thumb, I Made a Planting"

Origins are forever fascinating. So many of us obsess for much of our lives over two primordial questions—Who am I? Who or where did I come from? A great deal of literature wrestles with these questions. They might seem simple to answer on the face of it. You are no one but yourself. You have a name, a place of birth, a home (if you’re lucky), important relationships—parents, children, siblings, friends, a lover or spouse. But each of these people and things is so deeply central to our sense of identity that they can require a great deal of contemplation.

Parentage—that question of who you came from—is particularly rich material for a lot of writers. Those original, primary relationships that we have with our parents—or whoever may have played those roles in our lives—those are the relationships that taught us how to have relationships, the first lessons we got in loving. If we were lucky, they were healthy loves. If not, well . . . at least grief can make for good material.

I want to read you a poem today by Emily Borgmann, a young poet from Omaha, Nebraska. This poem is called “From the Splinter in Her Thumb, I Made a Planting,” and it deals with this question of origins, but then takes us somewhere unexpected and surprising, as good poems do. It was published in the literary journal Green Mountains Review this past spring: Volume 29, No. 1.

From the Splinter in Her Thumb, I Made a Planting
So I’ve come to be because my mother
suffered a splinter once, then her mother dug
that speck of wood from her hand with tweezers
and dropped it in the grass. From which
a stubborn, wily, measly tree shot up
in a corner of her backyard, and I am that tree,
the same as every girl, the way one thing
leads to another.
Now, having learned how trees take breaths
big as canyons, the shells of which rattle
against them, I want to turn and face
my mother, embrace her shadowy
root with the exact magnitude
of force opposite to how I’ve yowled
for comfort, want to say into her knotted ear
so it echoes: It took me so long to find you here.
It took me so long to disassemble my house,
stack the boards outside the door before
crushing the frame.