I wish I had remembered, two years ago, that Sinéad Morrissey’s Through the Square Window was written between her first pregnancy and the first two weeks of her second child’s life. Of course, while I’d have particularly appreciated a lot of the collection at the time, it still resonates, to the point that it’s difficult to decide what, specifically, to share.
There are some lovely passages about pregnancy: “how you came to roll and hiccup and kick / against the windowless dark, feet to my heart / and skull to the pelvic cradle,” from Matter (reminiscent, however vaguely, and perhaps only to me, of Plath’s You’re)
It seems I’ve shared two birth poems before: “and in that inner cinema saw / the ruched vermilion curtains rise / on a vast screen showing lava. There, / you issued forth in scarlet flumes, / in cinescope, in a sunrise of burst veins.” (from “I had my eyes shut the whole time”, in Newborn by Kate Clanchy) and The Language of the Brag by Sharon Olds – and I compare some of their imagery here. Well, to continue a theme, here is some more:
‘Love, the nightwatch…’
Love, the nightwatch, gloved and gowned, attended.
Your father held my hand. His hands grew bruised
and for days afterwards wore a green and purple coverlet
when he held you to the light, held your delicate, dented
head, thumbed-in like a water font. They used
stopwatches, clip charts, the distant hoof beats of a heart
(divined, it seemed, by radio, so your call fell intertwined
with taxicabs, police reports, the weather blowing showery
from the north) and a beautiful fine white cane,
carved into a fish hook. I was a haystack the children climbed
and ruined, collapsing almost imperceptibly
at first, then caving in spectacularly as you stuttered and came
– crook-shouldered, blue, believable, beyond me –
in a thunder of blood, in a flood-plain of intimate stains.
But wait! There’s more!
There are poems about how bloody hard it is sometimes (“five weeks in / to our botched conversation / of doorways and diptychs, of wreckage, / of howling, and he unknown, […] a screaming boy abandoned on the floor, / and me, no longer listening, / but thinking instead of storks – […] and I wished the stork back, / with its bundle-used beak / and impossible kindnesses – / I wished the stork back.” – from Missing Winter), but right now what’s most compelling to me are the parts about the commencement of speech, a child who “has been taking the wheel of speech / into his mouth / then letting it go // to test its new circumference.” (from Townhouse), and this:
As though the world were a spiral staircase,
and the order in which you ascended it
already set, I wanted the words
you attempted first to be solid and obvious:
apple, finger, spoon. The bat
hanging like a blister in your drool-proof
baby book or the lovesick cricket
with its gossamer instrument
were surely to be held back:
until I could explain, until I could build
you a zoo of improbable candidates
and properly introduce you.
But you were too quick –
like panic, there was no stopping it –
each day’s vast, unbreachable
impact – and language,
in whatever ramshackle order
it made its presence felt –
a movable moon, the guts
of a clock, a fire escape –
rained down and into you, like
Catherine Linton’s wine-through-water
dream of the heath and expulsion
from heaven. I cannot hang
a curtain to keep it off. I cannot
section it. It is entering via
the ear’s aqueduct, every
listening second, trickling in
to its base equilibrium
and carrying with it an image in negative
to be absorbed by the brain and stored.
Bah! humbug! you say, aged two,
like the terrible man
in the cape with the walking stick
you glimpsed in the afternoon,
and what we assumed you knew
is jolted on its axis; then this:
at six o’clock the ghost
of a child might come and eat porridge.
We are speechless.
See the intro/roundup.