Good evening, poets! Amaya Engleking with you and we at the pub are offering hormonal cocktails with a shot of oxytocin tonight as we delve into the expansive world of birth. When I mentioned to my husband the subject of tonight’s prompt, he fretfully sighed, turned his head to the everyday disarray of our juvenile-centered household, and replied, “Birth is a good thing — in moderation.” Okay, I get it. That ship has sailed. But, because I’m still riding the birth wave, and am even enrolled in a midwifery program, you my friends, get to ride that wave (FYI, a euphemism for ‘uterine contraction’) with me as we explore birth in a poetic context.
I know that when we think of the word “birth”, we tend to go right to the birth of a newborn human baby. At least I do. And the poems I’ll share with you below are, for the most part, based on a human being born into this world. But I hope you look at birth with a wider, or even a cosmic perspective as you consider brand new beginnings and possibly even the miraculous: from nothing to something.
Here is the greatest mystic poet of our time (am I allowed to say that?) reflecting on earthly wonder he has yet to realize, as if reaching out to family members already born. Or maybe, he is preparing for his birth into an eternal realm.
Nativity by Li-young Lee, Book of My Nights, BOA Editions, 2001
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.
How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night’s darling?
Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,
this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches
just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,
each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.
If this prompt is inspiring you to remember your own birth or when you gave birth or when you became a parent, I will most certainly not object. Here is some momentum:
From “The Black Maria”
by Aracelis Girmay
(From Poetry magazine, April 2016)
The body, bearing something ordinary as light Opens
as in a room somewhere the friend opens in poppy, in flame, burns & bears the child — out.
When I did it was the hours & hours of breaking. The bucking of
it all, the push & head
not moving, not an inch until,
when he flew from me, it was the night who came
flying through me with all its hair,
the immense terror of his face & noise.
I heard the stranger & my brain, without looking, vowed
a love-him vow. His struggling, merely, to be
split me down, with the axe, to two. How true,
the thinness of our hovering between the realms of Here, Not Here.
The fight, first, to open, then to breathe,
& then to close. Each of us entering the world
& entering the world like this.
Soft. Unlikely. Then —
the idiosyncratic minds & verbs.
Beloveds, making your ways
to & away from us, always, across the centuries,
inside the vastness of the galaxy, how improbable it is that this iteration
of you or you or me might come to be at all — Body of fear,
Body of laughing — & even last a second. This fact should make us fall all
to our knees with awe,
the beauty of it against these odds,
the stacks & stacks of near misses
& slimmest chances that birthed one ancestor into the next & next.
Profound, unspeakable cruelty who counters this, who does not see.
& so to tenderness I add my action.
And yes, conception must precede our muse, so by all means, explore that too. (Fun fact: I was conceived in Acapulco 🏖)
by Rachel Jamison Webster
(From Poetry magazine, March 2013)
We’ve come back to the site of her
conception. She calls it why
and cries all night,
It seems the way is always
floating and the goal —
to live so the ghosts we were
don’t trail us and echo.
I think we are inside a flower,
under a pollen of stars vast as scattered sand.
The air pulses with perfume,
flowers calling to flowers and the ferrying air.
But my eyes are thin and elsewhere.
I am thinking, maybe
even coming into the soul
is a difficult birth, squeezed by the body’s vise.
My bent legs like pincers
or the vegetable petals of some tropical flower.
Even my mind gripped by the folds
of the flesh, how the cells keep twinning
themselves out toward complexity.
The tulip trees of the valley
spread their bone canopies into slick green leaves
and fire flowers deep as cups.
Their cups fill with rain, rain
drinks the leaves drinking rain.
I can’t begin to explain.
How on this porous peak of stone in the sea
our daughter came into me.
Little flick of a fish I could not see.
I was just learning to be human
and upright among all that life.
And what was real was stranger
than night with its dust of unnamed suns.
It was the beyond in us. And she was.
Back in August, Frank J. Tassone shared a poem for his Hiroshima prompt, about a baby born in the midst of the unspeakable horror of that atrocity. Here is the link so you can read the prompt along with Let Us Be Midwives! An untold story of the atomic bombing by Sadako Kurihara.
So there it is, folks. Simply meditate on the concept of birth and see how your own poem is born on the page. You may also consider birth control and world population, the primal quality of animal birth, the unfortunate state of birth policy in many countries throughout the world (treating the natural process as if it were always a medical emergency), the birth of an idea or work of art, geological birth of mountain ranges or other awe-inspiring formations, universal genesis, rebirth and spiritual awakening, or anything else subjected to creation and generation.
When you’ve written and posted your poem to your blog, add your link to the Blinky widget below, and then visit the other poets’ pages and read and comment on their work. Feel free to make conversation below too, if that cocktail doesn’t make you feel too high. No wait, then definitely speak your mind!