In conversation with Jerusha Mather, author of ‘Burnt Bones and Beautiful Butterflies’

Illustration of Cerebral Palsy-affected author, poet, and motivational speaker, Jerusha Mather.
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Jerusha Mather is a neuroscientist and a poet, working toward her doctorate in biomedical science while simultaneously publishing her first book of poetry, “Burnt Bones and Beautiful Butterflies.” While her research is centered around discovering innovative methods to treat cerebral palsy, her poetry is a universalized exploration of life in all its multitudes. 

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Mather discussed her experience having cerebral palsy, or CP, her passion for poetry and her recently published book, which she hopes her readers will find themselves in.

Mather was born in Sri Lanka, where she initially showed signs of CP. At the time of her birth, the doctors found no complications, however, several days later, the onset symptoms of her CP became apparent to her parents. After blood transfusions and light therapy, she was said to have severe jaundice. Two years later, her parents moved to Australia, and there she was diagnosed with CP. She was given therapy and tried several methods to help her gain strength, walk and talk.

“When I came to Australia, there were more opportunities to get therapy,” she said. “Although it’s not perfect, it really helped me to gain some function in my legs and it really improved my quality of life.”

Introduced to poetry while in primary school, she talked passionately about her experience writing and her love for the art form.

“In high school, there was one teacher that really loved poetry, and we started a poetry club,” she said. “We had fun talking about poetry. It was just her and me at the time, and she gave her lunchtime just to read poetry with me. I thought that was really lovely and I thought that was really special. I think that’s really how my love of poetry began.”

She began her poetry Instagram page while at university, but she didn’t know where exactly her posting would go. On her recently published book, “Burnt Bones and Beautiful Butterflies,” Mather stated that “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur inspired her to publish her own work.

“I read it and I thought it was amazing,” she said. “I thought that it was so courageous of Rupi Kaur … and I thought that it would be nice if I could do the same. So I wrote a book.”

On Sept. 18, Mather independently published “Burnt Bones and Beautiful Butterflies” as her first book of poetry. She did, however, express her disappointment with publishing companies, as they were reluctant to publish her book.

“They just shut down when we talk to them about poetry or when you write to them about it,” she said. “They don’t really look at the person’s talent — I think talent is important. I think it’s time that the publishers see the talent, not the popularity.”

Speaking of her own abilities, Mather described her art and writing process as both universally located and widely accessible. 

“Some of (my poetry) is about my experience, but most of it is about people and life,” she said. “I see people in my head and I don’t think about it, I just write it. And then when I’m thinking about a picture in my head, the words just come out. I think that’s something that is part of my talent.”

Mather also highlighted the power that resides within her direct stylistic approach.

“My style is very simple and straightforward, but it thinks about really complex things that the world experiences, that everyone experiences,” she said. “I think that’s really important, that my work can make a difference in someone’s life in some way. That’s why I wrote the book, because words are not simple things — words can send a person hope.”

Describing her poetry as a deeply contemplative exploration of how beauty can emerge from the darkest of places, Mather explained how hope and resilience are at the core of her poetry.

“The pain and the sorrow, and also the happiness and the joy, that life brings is really investigated in my book,” she said. “That’s why I called it ‘Burnt Bones and Beautiful Butterflies,’ because it’s about how beautiful things can come out of pain or struggles or disappointment or failure or brokenness. That’s the message that I am constantly trying to represent in my poetry, and I really hope that people can see that.”

Ultimately, poetry has given Mather a channel to explore her creativity. With final words of eloquent sincerity, Mather spoke from her own experience about the beauty and possibilities of imperfection.

“It is OK to not be OK,” she said. “That’s what really drives my poetry — the human aspect. Not the perfect human, but also the broken human.”

Contact Nathalie Grogan at [email protected].