Poetry Month 2012 1: St Bride’s

What better way to start off Poetry Month 2012 than with a birth poem. Or, should I say, another birth poem – given that I’ve already shared I had my eyes shut the whole time by Kate Clanchy and The Language of the Brag by Sharon Olds (I compare some imagery from both here, although I only link to Olds and only quoted a tiny bit of Clanchy), and ‘Love, the Nightwatch…’ by Sinead Morrissey.

This one is by Kathleen Jamie (whose poem Before The Wind I shared in Lent) and contains two words that I didn’t know what they meant. I’ll tell you what they mean afterwards.

     St Bride’s
     for Freya

     So this is women’s work: folding
     and unfolding, be it linen or a selkie-
     skin tucked behind a rock. Consider

     the hare in jizzen: her leveret’s ears
     flat as the mizzen of a ship
     entering a bottle. A thread’s trick;

     adders uncoil into spring. Feathers
     of sunlight, glanced from a butterknife
     quiver on the ceiling,

     and a last sharp twist for the shoulders
     delivers my daughter, the placenta
     following, like a fist of purple kelp.

The words I didn’t know were jizzen and mizzen.

Jizzen is old Scots for ‘childbed’ – which itself is a medical term relating to the condition of giving birth. It’s not a bed (well, not always) – it’s the final stage of pregnancy (labour). Jizzen is also the name of the collection this poem can be found in.

Mizzen is the third mast, or the sail on the third mast, of a sailboat. So in this context it’s one of the more pointy tall bits of a model boat that you’d never get in through a glass bottleneck without some kind of magic trick.

While on the subject of definitions, a selkie is a human who can take a seal’s form (or vice versa?) by shedding the sealskin on land (the ‘selkie-skin’). By hiding the selkie’s skin, you can prevent the selkie from taking back its seal form, and thus remain human. Most selkie stories are those of abandonment – not realising, for example, that a new lover is in fact a selkie until they have slipped back into their skin and disappeared from your life.

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