Lent 4: Cathedral

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.

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2 Responses to Lent 4: Cathedral

  1. Pingback: 40 Poems of Lent: an introduction & roundup | impeus.com

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