Birthing a poem, take 2, his perspective.

Whether I’m actually better is hard to say, as I have narcotics to mask my symptoms, but let’s be happy while we can. Which could be a while, I have a high pain threshold, so I’m carefully doling these little pills out–I want the suckers to last! Plus, my doc looked rather doleful when she prescribed them, so I don’t want to end up addicted and on her conscience.

Speaking of pain, my friend fast approaches labor, so I thought a second poem, from the father’s perspective, might be instructive. It’s not as graphic or violent as the other, but it wouldn’t be, would it? This is by Greg Pape, from his collection, Sunflower Facing the Sun.

In the Birthing Room

You can say anything, but there are things
that can’t be told. They’ve worked out a method
of breathing to help you through, to ease the pain,
but the pain is deeper than breath goes.
I’ll never know. Here, for me, things
are as simplified as a traffic light,
the quickly passing yellow of choice
between two commands. Here’s my hand.
Nothing can drive me away.
I am like a stud in the wall
that makes this room possible.
You are like a sunflower facing the sun.
For better or worse, here for the duration.
Let the knees buckle, the hernia bulge,
the sweat swim along the lines of the skin.
Let the discs of the spine fuse
with cold fire, let the feet flatten,
and the small vessels in the eyes burst
and redden. Listen to the voice of the will,
egged on by the heart, setting out
on this journey through the mountains,
deserts, and swamps of the body.
I’ll hold your hand, and fan and fan
for as many hours as it takes.
This is December tenth and January twenty-eighth.
This is the day within the days
we’ve been moving toward.
Nurse says don’t push, resist the urge
to push. Doctor says push.
I say breathe, breathe.
You open your mouth, release another mottled
sparrow of pain. You can say anything.

I have mixed feelings about this poem, because even though I like the images, it’s a little too “I’m here for you even if you turn into Sasquatch.” It begins nicely: “I’ll never know.” But then, it happens: “for me.” And: “I am like the stud in the wall/that makes this room possible.” Huh? While we can all agree that yes, there would be no baby without the man, the scene is the labor room, so couldn’t the mother have center stage for a little while? And don’t think titling the book after the mother/sunflower simile makes it okay.

So yes, I’m ambivalent. But the last two lines are why I decided to type it up anyway. The tone has shifted–that second “You can say anything” is so tender. I love these lines. They redeem the poem, for me.

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