Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Birth

I sit
in my dark office, see
shadowed spikes of exotic palm
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
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)
(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?"

For more Tuesday poems, click the link on the sidebar.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The power of many stories

After reading some inspirational stuff on the weekend about how a writer's blog is a window to themselves and a key means of "connecting" with community and readers, I've resolved to be more regular in updating this blog. So from now on I'll be good (promise!) and also cross-post from my blog on The Big Idea, Talkwrite, which comments on the arts scene in NZ from the point of view of an emerging artist (me). The Big Idea is an online hub for NZ's arts community, and very well trafficked. I'll continue to keep this blog as a storage place for my more personal thoughts, experiences, the odd family photo, and of course the Tuesday Poem.

(crossposted from The Big Idea)

I’ve been frolicking in foreign lands, but made sure I returned in time to catch the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. As always, between sessions the foyer was packed (I later found out that attendance was up 21 percent from last year) and there were queues in front of the bookstore, the signing table and the coffee karts. Everywhere people were talking excitedly about what they’d just seen, or were about to see.

In an age where (some would believe) the more pyrotechnic the show the better, what makes people pay money to sit in a dark room and watch talking heads?
... read more here.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The danger of a single story - Chimamanda Adichie

I was cheering all the way through this. I love the way Chimamanda points out her views, with sly jibes but not an ounce of anger at the assumptions people make about others' cultures. I love her attitude at the end - that if someone makes an assumption, it's not necessarily their fault, but more that they haven't had the chance to access multiple stories. And I love the way she humbly admits that she too often makes assumptions because she buys into only one story. I think it's important to remind myself of that, despite - or perhaps especially because - I spend so much time trying to create alternate narratives. (I laughed and cried a little inside when she talked about the literary professor who rejected her story because it wasn't "authentically African".)

To bring this back to a NZ perspective, I'm going to link to another video. The South Auckland Poets Collective is run by youth for youth - and principal to their goals is to reverse the negative stories and images about their hood that have been ruling the media for years. This is just one of many videos on their website:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Umbilical Ode

Such small indentation, crinkled, folded
a sow’s ear – soft stroked
as the skin of a newborn
who screams on separation from its mother,
ridged, silently capturing years of dirt
thrown in accusation or merely
by accident –
an eye peering back in contemplation,
with lint in it.

For years you have sat squarely in my belly
a silent Buddha,
sometimes laughing
from within folds of my flesh,
poking a barefaced tongue out
as I strip in front of the mirror.
Once you were my lifeline, my pulsating bond,
the blood hurtling
from my mother’s warm ventricles
throbbing through coiled conduits
squeezing past the gut,
taking the hook turn past the ligamentum teres
of the liver and round the joyride of my heart
to arrive barefaced and breathless back
at you, the waystation,
the conductor,
the portal.

When I gaze at you nightly
for some hint of divine inspiration,
I see the flesh twisting beyond the skin,
the grip of a mother’s hand losing.
I see the skin spiraled into the line
that stretches between me and my mother,
between me and my unconceived child.
I see the flesh twisting tightly closed,
the mouth drawing tight,
the pursestrings

pulling tight.

This is a poem I wrote a while ago (it appears in my first chapbook, Chinglish). I'm posting it now because I've been doing a lot of navel-gazing lately, and watching others do the same thing. I mean, writing is sometimes an exercise in this, right? (Informed navel gazing, that is.) It's weird - whenever I write something that I consider to be exciting, and innovative, and saying new things, yet it's not in some way anchored in my own experience, people call me out on it. It's as if we all have this inbuilt antenna for authenticity when we read or listen to fiction. (Obviously, the same requirement for personal connection isn't needed in non fiction or research).

I'll be posting a few things that have been making me think, soon...

PS. For more Tuesday poems, click on the little feather on the sidebar!