The children

by Elana Lev Friedland
Blurred Genre 2019 Contest Winner

The children the children the mothers wore them like purses like scarves draped over mothers the children
All hail the mothers the mothers for they are doing the Lord’s work doing their work in the name of the Lord yes the Lord
See the mothers God bless the mothers see how they wear their children and my what a fashionable look it is how the mothers
The mothers oh children we should all be mothers my children my God let us all be mothers all be mothers wearing children bearing children
A mother a mother
This child held in a holster see the children
                                                                        clinging to belt loops the children holstered in plastic the children the children please won’t somebody think of the children
please won’t anybody think of the children
The mothers bear their children proudly how they shine in the light of the Lord while they beat their children the mothers the mothers beam at their children the beams of light that are their children beating at chests at breasts beaming the children the children
when the men came for the children                                                  the mothers
How the mothers screaming do not take my children our children oh how our children our children
The mothers bereft of their guns their shields their weapons their children
How the mothers howled
                                                when the bad men came to take the children
                                                                                                            and put them in trains
                                                                                                                                    the children
The children were put into train cars into boxcars stacked like boxes the children couldn’t breathe because of the children on top of the children
                                                            the children urinating defecating into corners onto children
the children like guns emptying into bodies the children
Whatever were the mothers to do without their children?
While their children in the dark of the boxcars gasping between darkened planks the children
Could the mothers run fast enough down the tracks after their children?
What were the mothers without their children?
The bad men came for the mothers’ guns their children the mad men took away the mothers’ guns how could the women claim they had had children?
Down the children go past the towns the children on wheels in boxes upon boxes of children past towns that smell but do not see the children shitting the children shitting upon the children the children with no place else to go but over or under the children
The mothers could not fight back without their guns
The mothers could not fight back without their children
The mothers searched for a stockpile of children
The mothers prayed for a surprise parade of children
The mothers run the mothers run the mothers run
Past the towns and after the boxcars the mothers run the mothers run for want of their children their guns their children their guns their children the mothers run the mothers run
and as they approach the gates that stand before the gates that stand before a giant smokestack
past piles of tiny shoes past cobbled mountains the mothers run until stopped suddenly met by the bad men
and how the mad men smile and welcome the mothers the mothers
the men tell the mothers they will soon meet they will soon be again with their children oh how their guns their children
and so the bad men led the mothers to the rooms led the mothers past the mounds of minuscule shoes the mothers were led
by the bad men to the room covered in tile where they are told they must wait to see their children before they can see their kids the mothers must be cleansed they must be ready to see their children
their belongings will be collected and waiting at the end where they will meet their children their sweet sweet offspring spring-loaded children their mothers at the end
and how they miss them
the children miss their mothers
the mothers miss their children
the bad men said the bad men said the bad men said
but maybe after all they weren’t so bad. if the children were clean if the children were happy were being fed
the mothers had been running for so long and they were so tired and did they not want to wash and rest
the men remind them of the world they have left
the earth is burning
the oceans are oil and are burning
the sky is clogged and is burning
rest now, mothers. soon, mothers, you can rest. but first you must meet you must see your guns your children.
the mothers strip and allow their belongings to be collected. their minds are not with their bodies but only on their children their children the women do not mind the men watching their bodies they do not care their thoughts are pure they are thinking only of the children of saving the children they are thinking of the children aren’t they all thinking of the children?
the mothers would like us all to know they have only and ever been thinking of their children
they are thinking of their guns their weapons their children as the men recede and the doors close and fasten
soon they will be clean and they will be reunited with their guns their kids their children
the mothers are tired and only thinking of the future of their children their children
the mothers do not hear the clicking over the sound in their minds their memories of the children the children laughing as the clicking the clicking the hissing the hissing the hissing and the fire the fire the fire that is
the mothers are burning
the mothers the ashes are burning
the mothers the ashes the children the guns that were burned that live in the lining of the caulk of the tiles of the showers that are not showers are burning are burning are burning burning burning
how the world burns and with it every child is burning all the children

Judge’s comments

Elana Lev Friedland’s “The Children” steadfastly resists categorization—it is a poem, short story, speech, spell, lament, outcry, and probably a couple of other things. Friedland invokes, in incantatory, impassioned lines not unlike prayer, the most desperate moments of parenthood and of life, but specifically of motherhood—the anguish that results when heartless outside forces succeed in breaking the bond between mother and child.

Initially these lines seem to address the horrors of the Holocaust, but it is not a stretch to say that they also evoke current events. Take your pick: separation of families at the US border, Rohingya relocation in Myanmar, the war in Syria. And yet Friedland’s work also reaches backward in time and world history to show us the personal heartbreak that has arisen out of conflict between societies since civilization began. Somehow Friedland accomplishes all this without moralizing, but with compassion, truth, and even humor.

—James Hannaham

Elana Lev Friedland is a writer, musician, and performance artist. Originally from Skokie, IL, they currently live. Their work has appeared in Cartridge Lit, Anomaly, Salt Hill, The Rumpus, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. Find them online at or on Twitter @elanalevisalive.