Baby awake . Walsall Art Museum
This is the second poem I want to share .Motherhood is such a large part of my persona that watching my sons develop into young men brings their absence from my daily round into sharp relief. Nevertheless it is an experience that has shaped me and tested me . As a young woman in my twenties there was virtually no consideration of the possibility of me having children – life was simply busy, and I had none of the maternal cravings that others seemed to feel. I had never been around babies – I was the youngest – and had no extended family that included them. I lived to work and to play , and did both probably harder than was good for my well being. So motherhood arrived in my early thirties – a biological imperative kicked in which I could neither explain nor ignore. I was ignorant of all things to do with being pregnant and further on ,of small human beings that had lots of demands. I was adrift in an alien landscape without a map. I struggled. I loved this little stranger with a ferocity I had never experienced. He was a baby in pain during the first few weeks, and was not thriving. I was encompassed totally by my responsibility towards him, and increasingly tormented. It was not a happy time, and yet it was full of wonder and awe and deep, deep love.
This poem by Sylvia Plath suggests the alienation that I felt at that time.
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
My first outing without my baby was instigated at the insistence of my husband and mother, and I was literally harangued into making an attempt to rejoin the world. I went to Walsall art musuem , where I was moved to my core by an Epstein bronze of a baby’s head. It inspired me to write my own poem. Its not a good poem, but it reminds me.
Bronze baby, Epstein’s child.
Perfect depiction of infant
beauty, human fragility.
Lovingly carved, sculpted
polished, held. Immortalised
infant head of exquisite
timelessness. How I want
to secrete you, cradle you.
placed so unprotected
in our midst.
You spoke to me that day,
slashed through silence,
touched a delicate, fragile
part of me, the voice I was
so unsure of. In the newness
of my motherhood,
you showed me what it means
to be a child.
I took your message away,
kept it safe, inviolate,
next to my heart. Today,
a decade late, I know
the voice I heard was not
the sound of my newborn
but my own, untended