Wednesday, November 12, 2008

birth pangs

Morning Song

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.

~Sylvia Plath

I’m aching in couple of unusual places right now--I just raked and dragged 13 loads of leaves from my front yard using a rake with no handle (it had already lost half its handle in an unknown incident, and then I reversed over it in the driveway and completed the amputation). Working away in unaccustomed positions may be what got me thinking about birth pangs, or maybe I was already primed to recall the anguish of childbirth by the arrival on Monday, in PDF form, of my fourth child I mean second book.

Now, I have not experienced any of the shock or grief of parents whose baby arrives premature or sick or disabled. Compared to that, my own surprise at discovering, after all those years of living with my Child-Bearing Hips, that I wasn’t going to be able to push a baby out, and then my distress at finding that, according to the cosultant at the hospital my bosom practically screams “inadequate lactation”—I’m certain that these count as minor traumas.

So I don’t know if the feelings I’m having at the first glimpse of my newborn book fall into the category of major trauma, but it feels that way at the moment. This book had an unsteady start in that I didn’t understand for a couple of agonizing months that the publisher had already informally accepted it for publication—which is the opposite of eagerly peeing on a stick and seeing the thrilling or crushing response within 3 minutes. (I first announced the happy news of Daisy’s existence to a friend in the middle of a crosswalk at 15th and Q Streets—why wait until your actual partner gets home?) The gestation period of this book has been elephantine and then some; it has been 25 months since the process began and the book will not actually appear until Fall 2009.

Along the way there have been long periods of no movement at all, leading me to panic in the same way that every pregnant woman worries now and then that the baby may be—it’s hard even to write it—dead. And recently, even with a relative flurry of correspondence regarding a possible illustrator, a change of title, a possible cover sketch, copyeditor’s queries and a request for flap copy (author bio and front flap blurb, the writing of which is like preparing a birth announce- ment with a personality description instead of the simple facts of date, length and weight)—even with all this afoot, I was not ready for my bundle of joy to arrive in my inbox all at once with a note from the editor informing me that this was my last chance for text changes and that it would ship to printer ON THURSDAY.

Even so, this should be exciting news, right? The poems are as good as I can make them, the illustrations are lovely, things are really happening now—except that the illustrations don't always match my vision for the book. “Oh, woe is me!” I wailed yesterday to a friend who casually asked how I was at the bus stop. “After all this working and waiting, this book is like a fourth child, and I want it to be beautiful!” And then I realized that to an outside eye my book probably IS beautiful, and also that I don’t care exactly that it’s beautiful—but I do want my baby to look like me. That is, I was hoping that the illustrations would match the ideas in my poems and then go on to develop the ideas in my poems, make more of my words, rather in the way that anonymous genes have created unexpected richness in my two actual children—and (with no offense to the artist), I’m afraid that hasn’t happened here.

It's almost always true that love is the best response, but what kind of love works in this delivery room?

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