Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Average Mother

The average mother loses 700 hours of sleep in the first year of her child’s life; or, what that first year taught me about America.


Most of us favor one side when we walk. As we tire,
we lean into that side and stop moving in a straight line—
                        so it takes longer to get anywhere,
let alone home.

                        In wilderness conditions,
            where people don’t know the terrain,
a tired person might end up leaning so far into one side
            they’ll walk in a circle rather than straight ahead.

It can kill you, such leaning
                        —and it can get you killed.

                                                Rest helps.

                                                                        I told my husband,

I walked in a circle in my mind but you came out okay.

                        Initially, he asked me to clarify,
            but then he let it go.

Who wrote that first If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now sign? 

                        It seems I’m going to have to move.

            I am tired and also sick
of helping other people in lieu of helping myself.

                        Rest now.

It's really not that bad: we’re in the home stretch.

            That’s the mind of a parent.
Relentless optimism in the face of sheer panic
                                                                        and exhaustion.


Copyright © 2018 by Camille T. Dungy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 28, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I learned that statistic about sleep loss and was horrified. As I reflected on that number, I began to work on a series of poems that are composed of exactly seven hundred characters each. The title came relatively late in the process. I’d put the poem down for a long time. When I came back to it, I realized that in addition to describing the exhaustion of new parenthood it seemed to speak directly to how exhausting and precarious it often feels to live in this country in a body that looks like mine.”
—Camille T. Dungy


Camille T. Dungy

Camille T. Dungy is the author of several books of poetry including, Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017). Dungy was a 2019 Guggenheim Fellow and is a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University.

Date Published: 2018-05-28

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