21 June 2009

Alice Notley

[from Alice Notley's Mysteries of Small Houses, Penguin, 1998]

A Baby Is Born Out of a White Owl's Forehead -- 1972

At this time there are few
poems about pregnancy and childbirth
do I find this curious
I want to shriek at
any identity
this culture gives me claw it to
pieces; has nothing to
do with me or
my baby and never will,
has never perceived a
human being.
My baby is quiet and wise, but I'm
a trade name and I'm
rainwater on a piano -- I'm so
scared then but now of then I'd say
I want to make your tunes go away
to have a child is more casual
than, you might say, and more serious than
the definition
for who, frankly, was ever born
or gave birth?

After the usual pain and the well-meaning,
mostly but not all,
intervention of others and others' words and meanings
I find him. Lying next to me yes and being
nursed by me.
I serve him why not he isn't wrong.

I'm infused with a noxious dispirit
as the world makes me be a woman
everything has gone wrong in some sense by now.

Of two poems one sentimental and one not
I choose both
of his birth and my painful unbirth I choose both.
The woman in the photo has a haircut from Vidal Sassoon
wears a black silky synthetic top and probably a long skirt
the baby on her lap in sleepers and
a blue and white Peruvian cap.
They look abstracted in the same way.
He is the baby unchaotic
he is born and I am undone -- feel as if I will
never be, was never born.

Two years later I obliterate myself again
having another child
not to be a form of woman
but in allegiance to the process I
can't quite see.
I have begun to be.

I sit with my sons in a barely cared-for apartment
inside from Chicago in the TV's ambience (black and
white, like the snow) purple crocuses there
Ted's becoming sick with a lasting illness
though we are calm while money doesn't press us
a moment of happiness, these bodies are clear
all four finally clear and
still clear

but first, for two years, there's no me here.

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