Thursday, December 11, 2008


"the trouble with Flann O'Toole had to do with two things: his preoccupation with being such a disgustingly uproarious broth of a boy, and the fact that his middle name was Napoleon. An Irish Napoleon was a concept so grotesque it had to end up like O'Toole. O'Toole made potato whisky in a back room and seduction attempts upon the person of every female who entered the Elbaroom; he swore oaths regularly and broke promises unfeelingly; he was prone to fits of violent temper, but thought himself a reasonable man; he was likely at any moment of the day or night to keel over in an alcoholic stupor, but he considered himself a man of power; he was carried to his bed every night in a haze of obscenity and vomit, but he was convinced he was a leader in the community; he quoted poetry as he did ugly things." --Salman Rushdie [master of characterization]

At first it’s a slow leak,
nothing to panic about.
We watch the game
after a brief call to the midwife,
who is concerned by the snow
barricading her country home.

To bed for now,
in our basement bedroom.

4 am comes too early.
My between-contraction naps
become too brief and frequent.
Then pop.
Bags of waters,
which protected this 9-month concept,
down the drain.
Still no midwife.

5 am the shrieking begins;
there’s blood on the floor.
A slightly panicked call to the midwife,
who says in the face of rapid dilation,
to stay low and calm -
no shrieking.

Just low moans,
at the buffalo frequency,
bouncing on your birth ball.

Fill the tub.
Muddy bloodied waters.
No problem,
as long as it’s warm
in the cold
and cool in the heat.

Stay low and calm
at the buffalo frequency.

Help me,
you whisper your scream.
We’re only 2 hours in.

Stay low and calm
at the buffalo frequency.

You can do this,
I mock confidence.
And then we’ll have a baby.

Where’s the midwife?
Your query
more rhythmic than contractions.

Friends come first,
with a breakfast to go cold
as they boil water,
like a 60s sitcom birth.
Filling our birth pool
by the fire they built
in our living room.

Where’s the midwife?

Stay low and calm
at the buffalo frequency.
Tepid water over contracting belly,
moaning low.
300 liquid scoops
cool the pain
until it gets worse,
and you push them away
as the midwife arrives.

I feel like I want to push.

No don’t do that!
quoth the ignorant partner.

The voice of experience
searches for cervix,
finds nothing,
says, it’s all natural.
You’re ready to go.

So up we go,
you staggering, punch-drunk
like a lopsided prizefighter
begging to throw in the towel.

Nobody can do this but you,
and guess what, you’re doin’ it.
You will get this baby in your arms,
she informs you, her lips taut
like the memory of a cigarette,
her voice all silken dominatrix.
Now push!

You scream your war cry.
Forget low and calm,
to hell with buffaloes.
You sweat methane.
Arm in arm we squat,
your full weight on me,
fire in our legs
and on our skin.
My back breaks,
as the pool is filled
with 37-degree water.

You climb in
but you won’t take my hand,
just ice-water.
Ice-water to forehead,
ice-water to lips,
to throat, then spilled
under a small slice of sea.
My hand is freed
For shoulder neck massage.

You wail, just short of ululation.
Your language is clear,
your cries reverential.
This is not the time to be crass,
though the neighbours think
you are being tortured.

The baby responds with a crown.
You can’t see it.
Anticipation fills the room,
like a back-alley yodel
you’re so close, Mama,
we all agree.
But you aren’t impressed
by the sliver of emergent hair.
I’m so far away.
Can I quit now?

Low moans,
buffalo frequency.

Seven more warriors cry.
Seven more uterine contracts.
Your baby’s face is slipping through,
and my hands are placed for the pull,
but the shoulder is stuck as we heave,
and it’ll surely break with such force,
our biceps one way
your contorted primal writhing
the other.

I can only whimper and cry,
as this marathon miracle 1st prize
passes through my hands, head-first
into the rivulet between your breasts.
Legs are spread to see
his swollen testicles dangling.
It’s a boy, my little baby boy!
But you already knew that.
My shoulders heaving tears,
your face a sheet of white shock.
What just happened?

The radio sings:
I’m Here
for You

A smile washes over my body.
He looks like me.
He looks like you.
A smile washes over my body,
blocks my fears
of tyrannical fatherhood.

We kiss,
each other and him,
our lips his cheeks.

Just sculpted lines between mother and child
have blurred and blended again,
leaving a singular hope.

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I think this must be the first time I've seen the whole labour story in epic poem form.

Interesting layout, because it ressembles contractions, which I'm sure was intentional. It has a pulse, it has rhythm, and the short clipped lines reinforce the climactic chaos of the event, short moments of awareness as the action continues until the opeace of the last three lines. Peace, and a boy.
Well, that passage by the great Rushdie should give us all confidence.
Sometimes even the masters can write in a sort of perfunctory, even sloppy fashion, as they were writing in their second language, which I suppose Mr. Rushdie is doing.


"the trouble with Flann O'Toole had to do with two things: his preoccupation with being such a disgustingly uproarious broth of a boy, and the fact that his middle name was Napoleon. An Irish Napoleon was a concept so grotesque it had to end up like O'Toole.

You have to read it twice, don't you.
With another adept like Updike you'd get the sense of what Mr. Rushdie is getting at straight off.
...Or maybe George Orwell when he begins a straight novel:

Marriage to the joyless Hilda was becoming a nightmare for George Bowling.

Gotta watch it though, I might end up with a fatwa.

Your stuff:

Masterful poem. Reminds me somehow of James Dickie...Ever hear of him?
Congratulations Ben...welcome to the wonderfully tormented world of parenthood.
Crushed: thanks very much for that. i want you to describe all my poems from now on - your description is awesome.

Ivan: thank you. haven't heard of James Dickie. I'll look him up.

On Rushdie: gotta disagree. I didn't have to read it twice but I read it twice and a third time anyway because it was gorgeous. His writing is fantastically lyrical. It's not about brevity with him, it's about energy, excitement, reverence and wonder, and he brings his characters alive for me in a way most writers can't touch. Love Orwell's stuff but this is a completely different style. Also, English is one of his two first languages.

TWM: thank you. so far it's been fun and completely exhausting. but when he looks up at me with his big shiny eyes i know it's a love that lasts forever.
...singular hope...
that odd feeling of questioning wonder and hope right after a birth..
there you go..
that's what it's about.
it's a mighty great high.
Beautiful.Such detail in the words which say so much.

The big bang in a bathtub!


Sweet rhymes, mo'fo.
GORGEOUS! This was completely enjoyable, right to the very end.

Welcome to the parent's club. It's the hardest thing you'll ever do but brings the best, warmest rewards ever!
wow... ok, this sure was different. And this different is definelty boarderlining something amazingly wicked!

Parenthood and all its essence...

I specially loved this part:

"Help me,
you whisper your scream."

Now I see where and how
the time was tied...

a new thread appears,
looping end to end
until no end exists

and all goes round
and all goes through
until no end exists

the void
is filled with laughter
and tears and eyes
lighting new fires
in this long long night

An new thread
to be stronger than the old

the night fires burn anew
eyes laughing
tears watering the garden

a new light shines
brighter than the fires
that gave it a name

without end
without end
I read the Rushdie quote and waited on the poem but I wish I didn't. If hope is hard to keep alive, then by the gods, give birth to new hope.

The beat goes on!

The babybopper will one day pass on the words.

Congratulations sir.

Keep us posted and write! Let that little light inspire the father to new heights.
Yes, the poem was great! I don;t get inspired every day lately.

I'm moving soon, rather far and I really did not want to leave my beloved Michigan, but it's now time for me to depart. But this place will still be here... though I may change my blog to reflect that...

Or, I could keep it the way it is.

Anyway, take care man.

I'm glad to hear the news.

And funny enough, an ex girlfriend of mine actually gave birth to 2 children in her bathtub. She said the only one that hurt (of her 3) was the hospital birth.

The others were a more delicious, involving pain.

Anyway, peace out! I hope you are busy writing more as I speak.
This was just wonderful and it brought back many memories of giving birth to my two beautiful daughters.

It's amazing Ben, how quickly you forget the pain once your bundle of joy is there. The miracle of birth.

I wish you and your extended family a most wonderful Christmas and a happy and peaceful new year.

Hugs and LOL
Interestingly, I just had a friend who delivered at home with her husband after her midwife wasn't able to make it. I couldn't help but picture her.
Happy holidays!!
Despite the happy ending, it sounds like a traumatic experience. Remind me not to be born.
Kissa and Toast and Crashie: thank you, it's a fun thing to write about.

Smack: that's been my assessment so far too. Just his smile makes it worth it. how sappy is that? but it's true.
Eric: thanks for the verses and thoughts. sorry to hear you have to leave your beloved michigan, but i hope new and exciting things are in store for you too. and i hope you'll still be around these parts.

Middle Ditch: thanks and happy new year! this has obviously been a good holidays for us, though tiring. it's amazing how happy babies make most people. especially grandparent types.

PP: scary stuff. but i guess in the end the kid makes its way out regardless. i'm reading a book now about the !kung and usually the woman there goes off on her own to give birth.

X: no, not traumatic really. just hard. hard work. the ending is not only happy, but immensely joyous, for everyone involved - except maybe the baby. not sure what the baby is feeling.
Check in with the baby about forty years later, and ask if he/she feels that life is still joyous:-)
man i hope so. one thing parenthood has taught me about joy: it's a lot easier to maintain when you have enough sleep.
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