birth,  poetry

A Daughter

Pip1

Poem for a Daughter

‘I think I’m going to have it,’

I said, joking between pains.
The midwife rolled competent
sleeves over corpulent milky arms.
‘Dear, you never have it,
we deliver it.’
A judgement the years proved true.
Certainly I’ve never had you

as you still have me, Caroline.
Why does a mother need a daughter?
Heart’s needle, hostage to fortune,
freedom’s end. Yet nothing’s more perfect
than that bleating, razor-shaped cry
that delivers a mother to her baby.
The bloodcord snaps that held
their sphere together. The child,
tiny and alone, creates the mother.

A woman’s life is her own
until it is taken away
by a first, particular cry.
Then she is not alone
but a part of the premises
of everything there is:
a time, a tribe, a war.
When we belong to the world
we become what we are.

(Anne Stevenson)

In the Space of That Year

January 14: I register her birth,

which is to say,

somebody writes it on paper. My face is a cave.

We walk round town but nowhere’s open.

She hangs from me, small weight.

I’m meat,

heavier than you’d think was possible.

Each night, she drifts in her basket

through waves of colourless sleep

I can hardly believe anymore.

She’s a small cat, curled at my chest,

searching for breast like air;

her mouth, its entire own creature.

Nobody told us a thing;

that mouth and its hunger

and nothing to fill it but me –

the mouth like a punishment – nobody warned us;

counting her life up

in gulps – fifty-nine, sixty –

in the open and shut (third time this night)

of her breakable throat.

World emerged

from the winter we willed her into,

its lights, its forest of noises

(she could not focus, she did not know us);

colour belled and pressed

like hands heeled hard against the eyes.

glowing like pain or clouds of stars;

like blood or spring arriving.

World took shape in air and its textures;

she was pushed through or lifted;

she slavered and slept; she was still

and the silence was bees.

Her arms were Africa.

her legs were Russia. Her back was

Here Be Monsters

and though there had always been voices

it was out of the dream

world reached her;

with the cold plastic skin of a mat.

With light.

With hunger and faces;

the absence of water;

with dog, and the shock

of a sneeze.

She could not lift her own head.

She could not sit up

or eat. Could not speak.

She could not find her feet

until she did

(Clare Shaw) (published in Jubilee Lines edited by Carol Ann Duffy)

Listen to it here

(image: me with Pip, 10 days old by Cara)

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