Taking care of a baby by yourself is brutal. I saw this when I stayed with my sister during Memorial Day weekend to help her with her two little ones—three-year-old Hannah and one-month-old Liesel—while her husband was away on a business trip. They live in a Virginian suburb, in a house about four times the size of their apartment in Singapore. Stairs, back home, belong to outside the home; here, they have come indoors. So, if you don’t want to trek down to the kitchen in the middle of the night to make a milk bottle for the screaming baby, you plan and remember to carry up with you, before going to bed, the red bag with the bottles of milk formula.
To make things easier around the house, you create routines, routines which in turn make your life feel smaller. There must have been times when, woken up by Liesel’s cry for milk, my sister felt what Boland describes in the opening of “Monotony”:
The stilled hub
and polar drab
of the suburb
The feeling comes upon the poet, standing “in the round” of the staircase, arms “sheafing nappies” like some hideous inverted Demeter. Instead of growing to the sun, the poet grows “in and down// to an old spiral, a well of questions,/ an oracle.” Her question for the oracle: at the “altars” of washing machines and dryers, is she priestess or sacrifice? She observes how
clouds the rinsed,
with a hint
of winter constellations.
She sees stars in the glass. The acute observation leads her to find her answer in Virgo whose arms sheaf the hemisphere. The virgin stars of the constellation “harry” us
to wed our gleams
to brute routines:
Even the stars have routines they must follow. Though the poet accepts “brute routines” grudgingly (How else could one accept it?), by the end of the poem she has imaginatively transformed the stilled hub of the suburb into the rotating earth of the solstices.