Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Birth

I sit
in my dark office, see
sharp
shadowed spikes of exotic palm
slung
against stone walls
by noon-drunk sun.

I am waiting for a baby. Not mine,
you understand, that is not part of my contract,
but the baby of the woman
who lies gasping
unheard, unseen, around the corner. Her baby
sits, cheeks cradled
in the basket of her pelvis, not knowing
which way to turn, not knowing
that the correct way to enter the world
is to look both ways, then go head first. Too late to turn now.
This baby listens to the pained panting
of its mother’s heart, feels the roof
of her diaphragm tapping
fast staccato beats onto
the small wet muff
of its hair, like urgent rain. Its feet are cold.

This baby, you understand, is not my
responsibility
not yet.
I am not the midwife, my hands
do not slide slippery and slimy
up between the redness of thighs,
the warm something poured into
a metal bucket on the floor,
do not touch
the small white toes resting
in the perineum
as if waiting for a bus
which is late. I only watch,
do not move, do not clang together forceps
like giant tongs, lifting,
lifting the gray morsel
out, out
into the still world.

He (for now we can see
that it is a boy) lies naked
on my towel.
He is an unfolded nautilus
still dreaming under
the sea
listening to the slow
thud of his mother’s heart, the pulse
of the mask on his face,
the quickening beat of my heart,
of my breath
as I try to reach
his will to live. I push
each square digital second
into his waiting chest, time
clinging like mucus to my fingers.
At last he coughs and breathes.
His tiny eyes open and watch.
His heart flutters delicately
under the membrane
of my stethoscope.


Now I sit
in my dark office, pushing
words out
with patient contractions of my pen.
Somewhere in the hospital a mother
breastfeeds. I write.


I move between medicine, science and arts in my life. Often in one day I'll begin as a doctor and end as a poet; or break off from writing a play to attend a meeting on writing a research paper. I don't think it's all that unusual, in fact I think there's more or less a unifying theme to my three vocations - in all of them I'm dealing with stories, trying to understand and then re-express the things that underlie our lives.

Yet it's true that I have developed skillsets that are very different. Although I'm most at home in the consulting room, talking (those who know me will know I love talking!), I'm also well drilled in the protocols of resuscitation. Saving someone's life is more routine than you would think. There are flowcharts to follow, drugs laid out in order, and everyone has their role and even a kind of script.


(the baby is delivered and brought to the table)
"Dry."
(Someone vigorously rubs the baby in a warm towel.)
"No response? Stimulate."
"Wakey wakey."
(Someone tickles the baby and blows oxygen on their nose. The baby stirs and gives a weak cry.)
"Heartrate good. Resps established at - 1 minute."
"Are you the Dad? come over here and say hello to your daughter. Congratulations! Got a camera?"

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6 comments:

Mary McCallum said...

Oh Renee - this is stunning, stunning. I have goosebumps up and down my arms. I love narrative poems like this where we are taken unexpectedly into a whole other world. I couldn't read it fast enough - so many astonishing images - of waiting and wetness - and breathing... I love the white toes and waiting for a bus... The only thing I'd suggest - and I hesitate to do it - but for what it's worth, I'd add a little something in the final stanza so the reader knows what you're writing/birthing is a poem not medical notes e.g. something like inserting in italics or inverted commas one or two of the poetic words you've used in the stanzas above ...

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Renee, this poem is so involved, so full of life, so to speak. I thought the tone was perfectly held. Great stuff. Thanks for posting. It's so interesting to hear about what everyone does - arts-related and otherwise. Funny how we draw our own lines.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

Renee, this poem is so involved, so full of life, so to speak. I thought the tone was perfectly held. Great stuff. Thanks for posting. It's so interesting to hear about what everyone does - arts-related and otherwise. Funny how we draw our own lines.

ashwini said...

That was a grate poem. I always wanted to know how it was for my baby when he first saw light of the world. I often ask my husband he is a physician, and was there during the delivery. This poem just answered my questions. Wonderfully written as a poem, as things move fast during the end of delivery, so the flow was there, slow then fast towards the end. Great poem, best I have read anywhere on the net so far! Congrats!

Mary McCallum said...

Yes Ashwini is right - the baby's point of view in birth - who's done that before?

Nancy Simpson said...

Renee, best wishes to you.

Mae

nelson.mae@gmail.com

Nancy Simpson is
author of Living Above the Frost Line ( 2020) and two other poetry collections Thank you for visiting my site and leaving a comment.

www.nancysimpson.blogspot.com