I realize that in all the interviews I’ve done leading up to publication for Fierce Kingdom, no one has asked about the epigraph. So I’m going to talk about it anyway.
Here it is: “I just want to know if a sound can create a boy. Or, if a woman becomes a mother when she thinks she hears a baby crying for her.”
The lines come from the poem below by the very talented poet Elizabeth Hughey. (Who also happens to be a good friend.)
I didn’t actually read the poem until after I’d finished the book, although the lines seemed so perfect that I didn’t think Elizabeth would believe me. (I think she did.) I love the way the poem touches on what it means to be a mother–that it’s tied to being needed. To being crucial. If you’ve read Fierce Kingdom already, you know that the cries of a baby play a fairly big role. But the idea of hearing a baby cry–of hearing a child who needs you–also fits into the broader themes of the novel. At its core, I think the book deals with what we owe our children…and what we owe other people’s children. Joan is always wrestling with that question–how much should she risk for a stranger?
Ultimately, I think her decision echoes the epigraph. We don’t just parent our own children. We’re all connected. We step into the role of mother–or father–when we see the need for it, in all kinds of big and small ways.
Elizabeth, by the way, has published two collections of beautiful, strange, mesmerizing poetry. You might want to check out Guest Host or Sunday Houses the Sunday House, which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Or you can read another one of my other favorite poems, “Land Lines,” here.