Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
I’m excited to see the return of Poetry Wednesday, since I seem incapable of mustering enough momentum to type on alone. Lately I’ve been craving a return to some kind of writing practice. If the children cooperate I have perhaps an hour each evening, between cleaning up and lying down, with which to play. I have a feeling that Poetry Wednesday will probably comprise the totality of my writing practice for the next several months, if I can manage even that. But it’s hardly a sinking feeling. Even if it were, at this point I would be happy in the leakiest boat.
My baby is nearly six months old now, grabbing our plates off the table, desperate to crawl. His infancy is passing so quickly, which is a sensation I didn’t feel with my daughter. I was anxious, with her, for stages to be subsumed by new stages, for new time to layer itself over old time. I hated being a novice, even though I am a perpetual one, experiencing her growth for the first time. This time around, everything is different. I knew it would be, but what I never expected was the happiness. Life has calmed; we are accustomed to each other now; I think N. has forgotten what it was like not to have a brother. But the first six weeks with the new baby were probably the most luminously happy time of my life. I felt so suffused with joy that I can only really write or talk around it. Even the memory of that time seems impenetrable to logic. I never knew that it could be possible to feel so happy while submitting to the demands of the most demanding sort of human being. There were moments of hysterical exhaustion, of deep frustration, of complete impatience. And yet even talking my overwhelmed daughter through one of many massive tantrums while simultaneously jiggling the overwrought baby to sleep felt like a privilege. I wanted this person, went about conjuring him as if from thin air. I carried him with me and was delivered of him on the living-room sofa early one spring morning with only a couple of hours’ notice. From the beginning he ate like a gourmand. He was content to sleep curled on my chest like a sea barnacle, and I was elated to have him there, buoying up my arms with pillows upon pillows, the better to cradle him with.
But happiness of that intensity cannot sustain itself. I am happy still, in general, but I am also fatigued, and feeling increasingly ready for the time when not everything I do is child-centred, nap-centred, nursing-centred. I think this is why I like this Plath poem. There is genuine love for her child in it, but there is a detachment, a displacement, too; she becomes her own observer, refusing to show us an interior, emotionally goopy view of her adjustment to motherhood. It reminded me of the hardest part of labour, between contractions while working to push out the baby, knowing that it would take awhile yet, and feeling somewhat unwilling to go all the way through with it. To those present – two midwives, a student midwife in her first week of practicum, a good friend, and my husband – I must have appeared insensible, sweating and cursing. Really I was split in two, separated somewhat from my body, thinking rationally, calmly, Now the baby is coming. Now the baby is here.
Is he ever. And now, off to sleep before he commences to wake me up at least thrice overnight.