Monday, May 16, 2005

next installment

Despite the interesting suggestion that I should wait for the child to be born to start writing about it, I persist in thinking that poetry can and should be an anticipation of experience as well as a way of remembering it. After all, I haven't died yet, but have written many poems about death, and plan to write many more. Besides, there have to be some rewards for choosing poetry over journalism...

So, in stout defense of my right to jump the gun, this is another part of that ongoing poem. It works with some newly aquired diction about childbirth itself, in perhaps the same way that "The Fighting Horses" was leaning heavily on anatomical terms:


Expand on the contractions, lend
a voice to the cries that are heading your way,
crown those shudders with an aura of calm
that comes from speech, whether truth or lie.
Shift your position as often as needed
to satisfy the emerging statement
of hope, the faithless fidelity
of expecting a child who can only die
at last, who makes you live faster, to choose
that early oblivion for your own
to get there before someone you love enough
to leave in charge of the world you saved
by putting it into words, maybe like
these, or maybe completely other-
wise. Let that separate wisdom breathe
its own amazement, catch some airs
from nowhere, wait for the shape to flop out,
slippery, powerless, covered with wax.
Unseal the message and let it uphold
its limbs like a herald’s trumpet, unfold
in the light to stretch once and resound
with a rival’s arrival—the name that precedes
us wherever we go. Let the last word follow
her closely, become who she’ll be till she finds
someone else who swear himself blue in the face
for her peace of mind, for the sake of next birth.

Now that I've typed it up and reread it, it strikes me that may just be a complete poem I haven't managed to title yet and so am tempted to tuck into the larger structure I've committed to here. So I'm hoping that a) I'll get some suggestions for a title and find ways to make this stand on its own as a separate poem or b) that I can make this work within the same frame as the foregoing 3 sections. It may be too abstract for its own good, but in some ways I think that longish poems can stand some more rhetorical intervals; such pieces tend to lose their lyrical intensity anyway, and don't need to be mere narrative.

P.S. I already have a poem called "The Expectant Father" so that title is out.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Ongoing poem(s)

As some of you know, my wife Kate and I are expecting a baby, and this prospect has sent me into a tizzy of emulous creativity. The trouble is that I'm finding that the things I write about impending parenthood are frequently fragmented or simply incomplete. I'm wondering if this is just due to a weak grasp on the real tasks I'll be undertaking, or a natural unwillingness to sum a new life up in a tidy package. So what I've decided to do here is post the bits and pieces of a long, unfinished and ongoing poem I'm going to call "The Birthing Suite" (this is both the place where the birth will happen, if all goes as planned, and a way of suggesting that it's meant to be a series or collection of poems). This tactic goes against the grain for me, in some ways, since I've always believed Edgar Allan Poe when he said that a long poem was a contradiction in terms (lyricism shouldn't have to be kept up for a long time, or else it gets formulaic or mannered, or what have you). I still mistrust any poem that takes me more than 30 minutes or so to write; it had better be really good and ambitious (leaving me lots of things to tinker with and agoinze over), or else it's just going to seem, well, stillborn.

Anyway, here's what I have so far:

The Birthing Suite


Bullet-headed, the baby wounds
its exit, bulling a way to the light
with its skull, it breaks, storming.
Ducking and covering its own retreat
from untenable spaces, self-effaced
through the whole bloody show, at action stations,
flushes its foxhole out, with mushroom
clouds behind it, like parachutes.


A tumbling comet nearing the tip
of its closest orbit, ready to start
another lap around the stars
before the recoil from this trauma
wears off and becomes a homing
signal calling it to swing gently
past the same catapulting bone
that slings it like a stone, whose arc
has bent as soon as it is released,
a shot that won’t stay where it’s put,
but squirms and clamors for far-off life.


Welcome the average insanity
of caffeinated parenthood.
Welcome the tuned-up birds on their morning
searches. Welcome the freedoms that do
very little good to anyone.

I've numbered the sections purely for convenience; they don't need to be in this order, or even the beginning of the poem. I am sure I'll be writing more along similar lines, and may happen upon a better opening.

I'm curious what you think, of course, but also about whether any of you have done this kind of thing: an interrupted poem with a common thread or focus (though not necessarily a narrative). How does it end up working out? Do you find you need other people to help you structure it or edit it? I suspect I will, and that's why I'm choosing to post it here. In general, I don't let unpolished, unfinished or potentially badly flawed material see the light of day, but the very long-term nature of this experience (the baby isn't even due until the end of June) makes collaboration seem worthwhile.

Finally—are there good poems out there about fatherhood? I've drawn a blank. Yeats's "A Prayer for My Daughter" is almost inhumanly remote, and she always said she hated it for putting some kind of ancestral, abstract pressure on her to live in a heroic yet airy fashion, so I'd prefer to avoid alienating the child I'm supposedly celebrating.