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The Giving Take

A poem about breastfeeding.

Five days ago, I gave birth. Great intimacy follows the birth of a baby. Much time is spent establishing a bond of closeness and breastfeeding regularity. The bodies of mother and child must find a new synchronization.

This poem – the first I’ve written since welcoming my new son into the world – is about that physical, emotional, and instinctual effort.

The Giving Take
 
Bessie, Bossie, Bonnie Blue,
Fussy, Flossie, Fannie Sue,
I see you through the doily leaves
along your mossy clean-picked path
up around the hill to home.
 
See me here?
I walk below
beside the road
with baby wrapped against my chest
so taut, my breasts,
impacted from the milk
his drowsy mouth neglects.
 
Barnyard-bound, you low and file,
udders swinging overfull.
 
I am going that way, too,
to see your farmer’s wife,
the closest nurse
and kindly mother hand
who may offer her advice.
 
I see your utters clear from here,
freckle-specked from last night’s rain
pinkly tender glossy fresh
mud-pocked from your stamping field,
where wet-petaled kissing pasture flowers
tease and tickle memories of calves
and make you dumb with longing.
 
You’ll beat me rounding high up there,
and by the time I reach the gate
your morning march will beckon them
into their clean-kept yard
and they will take my presence
unsurprised,
I hope,
and help me not to ask for help.
 
Fussy, I watch you stop to nip at buds
and dutchmen’s breeches in the trim
and Bossie butts you as she ought –
     move, move on
     sweet sleep-warm friends,
     our farmer father keeper love
     is booting up to milk us clean –
you listen to your older sister now.
She walks in back not because
you know the way back better but
to keep you true to line.
 
I hear your cello-talk,
rich and to yourselves,
stirring interest from baby now
to wake and take a nipping sip
between my undone buttons
and though I wince
I wince with gratitude
in my skin
hot to the touch
and pulsing thin,
that this resolves itself by way
of precious open baby mouth
and sudden suckles
to now commence.
 
The slightest nuzzle stirs
within these tight-topped breasts
desire for the giving take
you, too, body habit-instinct seek
within your cat-thronged barn,
the selfish suction pull relief
taking what must be given.
 
I know you now
you poor dear cows,
for now I know myself –
I falter-waver in the road,
halt midstride, and must decide
to turn around or go –
for with a latch
the urgent urge compressing me
proceeds along its inner paths
with centrifugal pull,
oh, please,
and works into my baby’s mouth.
 
Bessie, Bossie, Bonnie Blue,
Fussy, Flossie, Fannie Sue,
rounding down now out of sight,
see me here? But no.
 
You go on lowing,
absorbed in barn-bound thought,
distressed without a language for it.
 
I hear you go
sound-lost into the hillside pour,
last night’s rain still marbling round,
trickling, rolling, letting down
cleavage-softening
inside the porous limestone maze
to spill, artesian, out at last
a million milky mountain pearls
in giving, endless spray.

This poem will be among a future collection of poems. If you enjoyed it, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing one of my new collections in paperback or Kindle format. You can find them all on my Amazon author page.

Thank you, always, for reading.

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Every Day Is A Love Letter

I’ve been working this week on ordering and editing a lot of recent poems and hope to release them as a self-published book soon. It’s more or less an experiment to learn the process, since I’ve never attempted to self-publish.

This morning I decided to read one poem out loud – simply recording on my phone – to see how it felt. This poem, titled “Every Day Is A Love Letter,” is adapted from a short essay by the same name I published on Medium in February. Below is the text of the poem. I hope you enjoy it.

Every Day Is A Love Letter
 
You once wrote me a love letter
postmarked the day you left
for an ill-advised trip to China
I did not want to accompany you on.
 
Your pinched handwriting
filled pages of yellow ledger paper,
not a single error,
no scratched-out words,
for you stayed up all night
writing it, or re-writing it,
I could tell.
 
I still have it, your yellow letter,
envelope and all –
of course I do,
in the manila folder
with all my important documents:
birth certificate,
social security card,
our marriage license.
 
It was the only paper letter
you wrote to me,
but it was the only one
that needed to be written,
to tell me you needed me,
in case something happened
on your China trip
so I would have a goodbye from you
to take out
and unfold
and hold in my hands.
 
I thought of you
on all those weeks
you were in the rural interior of China
backpacking through farm country
or industrial cities
without tourist pretensions,
wondering why you had gone
without me,
without a plan,
as if the only plan
was escape
to see if you really wanted
to say goodbye.
 
I watched the weather reports
from places I had never heard of,
and learned the people there
endured the same winter as me,
and you
my love
who promised always
to keep my feet warm
were there with them,
shivering unprepared
in a light jacket.
 
When you stole sleep
on a bench in a train station,
I was here waiting for you
reading your yellow letter,
looking at the snow,
willing myself closer to you.
 
I never wrote you back,
though I thought many times
of sitting down with pen and paper.
 
Nothing I could write would do
justice to your ledger-lined vows –
I would write flatfooted
undeliverable greetings
in answer to your goodbyes.
 
You came back to me
sharp shouldered with hunger
so tired you cried
and I held you like a mother
and fed you rolls with honey
and apologized for no reason
other than for staying behind,
leaving you alone
to leave me.
 
In the time we have
I make every day
a love letter to you –
each kiss hello-goodbye,
every caress of your tired head,
my unfunny jokes to provoke
your world-weary smile,
quiet door closings
to help you sleep
and recover from this life.
 
Every clean glass of water
at your bedside table,
each honeyed roll,
my clumsy struggles
to give your little son
the same haircut as you.
 
Walking beside you my life
is a yellow love letter
holding your hand,
the way you wished
I had done with you in China.
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Poetry Creeps In

I write from the edge of March’s diving board. Tomorrow it will be April, and for many of us a second month of social distancing measures, unprecedented social uncertainty, and dark prospects.

Less than four weeks remains in my pregnancy and I watch the healthcare system wobbling from an uncomfortably close vantage. Before the next month is out, I will give birth. Unlike many patients whose conditions put them in repeated contact with our hospital doors, elevator buttons, and ventilation systems, I have a temporary condition. For the chronically ill, this turmoil is open-ended.

As I mentioned in my March 29 newsletter, the impact of coronavirus on our healthcare system – including on the lives of our healthcare workers – represents a colossal waste of humanity in a society so flush with misallocated wealth.

I’ve sought ways to write constructively about the pandemic. In the last month I’ve published a number of personal essays on different aspects of this crisis:

I’ve also turned increasingly to documenting our days in poetry. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve managed to maintain a goal of writing poems weekly – and this has only accelerated.

In fact, many of my prose pieces now have complementary poems. This is an experiment and a challenge I put to myself: How can I break out of my prose mindset and step more lightly? How can I engage serendipity and lyricism with my artistic leanings toward disciplinary rigor and research?

The results have been illuminating. First, I’ve discovered this:

Poetry has a way of wrapping around my prose almost like a vine around a branch. As the prose lends sturdy topics to poems, it also begins to exhibit the poetic flourishes. Poetry creeps in.

Second: There is no end to inspiration when it comes to poetry. Everything becomes a topic for a poem. The ideas bubble over into a running list of upcoming poems, and I wake in the morning eager to plow through my work to get to the creative outlet waiting for me.

Creative writing has always been a comfort and a dear friend, but in these days of pandemic, I feel more grateful than ever for a place at the fountain.

And I feel fortunate that I don’t need to purchase typewriter ribbon.

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Because I love the world and because I am here.

It is springtime in 2020 and the world feels like it’s rolling in a current. The rapids are approaching us here in the United States, in Central Appalachia, in West Virginia. I can see the white foam. It is called a pandemic.

We are in the midst of a paradigm-shifting world event. And it moves so fast it is hard to process. Our social infrastructure was not built for this. The supply chain cannot keep up. The public is uninformed and confused. Some people are in denial. Government officials have a conflict of interest between keeping the world from falling apart and maintaining the fiction that their leadership has kept us safe.

The speed of events, paradoxically, becomes a drag on our processing of them. We blink in disbelief. We are dazed by lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, the closures of businesses all over our towns.

I step outside into the spring air and listen to birdsong echo down our silent street. The trees are blossoming, the breeze is warm, and tiny flowers burst out everywhere in the high grass. The world is beautiful in spite of everything.

We must go on. I feel an intense urge to create, write, produce. Will we become sick? Will we survive? The possibilities tick closer to certainties every day the coronavirus spreads unchecked. We have no vaccine, no antidote, no supplies. The hospitals will become overwhelmed.

Yet I must continue to write. To write not only about life as it is now, but as it was before and must be again. All the human problems and struggles large and small, internal and external. I must keep making art about the world and its inhabitants, because I love them and because I am here.

So today I begin this blog and build this website. I am taking a step forward in my writing life. I intend to publish my fiction, poetry, and essays, and contribute however modestly to our magnificent artistic culture. I hope you will work with me, through whatever may come, to advance our human expression about this world.

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