From Not for Mothers Only:.

From Not for Mothers Only:  Contemporary Poems on Child-Getting & Child-Rearing, edited by Catherine Wagner & Rebecca Wolff:


Now the irises rage light, spiked tongues
at the hospital window

Inside the body’s solarium light shrinks
to cold flat stone

How I would like to just unravel

Through glass, cut leaves curl like fingers
in my throat

I once wished to take myself apart

There is no space between us: body caught in my body

There is the voice telling me there are many ways to give birth

The lesson chalked on the sidewalk like a missing
body these lines the surgeon sketches —

to save her, cut here and here and here

— Nicole Cooley


By some inauguration day minor miracle, both of my boys stopped crying long enough for me to hear the actual swearing-in of our new president, and while I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable, to bear in mind that President Barack Obama is a man, a good, intellectual, thoughtful man, but still a man, one who’s entering office at the worst of times, I can’t help but feel elated, as if that Mighty Mouse theme song is now the new order of things: “Here I come to save the daaay!”

How moving the benediction, and Elizabeth Alexander’s poem! Thanks to Wom-Po, here are links to an article with the poem’s text and video footage of the reading itself — I don’t think the text is lineated properly, being merely centered in paragraphs, but I’d need to get a glance at the poem in Alexander’s actual hands to know for sure (we’ll get our chance — Graywolf Press will publish the poem as a chapbook in February).  But I’m a text-based visual sort, so it’s nice to read it for myself, however provisional the line-breaks or format.  And the article itself is worth reading, too.

What a day. Tomorrow, reason and reality will return. But today, we praise, and hope, and celebrate!

Momentary Calm.

"I must hold that baby!" says our Monkey boy.

Last Sunday I got further than I’ve ever managed on the NYT Sunday crossword puzzle, primarily because I spent the day working on it as I huffed through contractions, unable to concentrate on anything beyond the Sunday paper.

This Sunday, I’ve haven’t had the time to read more than a section or two of the paper, never mind the crossword puzzle.  It’s a whole new world.  I have five siblings! — I am now convinced, after just a week with a mere 2 children, that my mum has some secret Superpower, or vast reserves of extraordinary patience at the very least.  Seriously.

This blog is now a year old, and quite the bewildering year it’s been.  Very little about it has turned out as I, quite reasonably, expected.  Aidan was a complete surprise, as was the bookstore closing.  The topography of my life has changed in nearly every way imaginable, and I don’t think I’ve fully come to grips with that.  The unmoored feeling persists, and writing time harder to come by than ever.

But oh my, that new baby smell is intoxicating!  And Vincent, when he’s not regressing and making me cry, kisses his new brother’s head with the sweetest enthusiasm.

And we’re having…[Warning: Baby Spoiler Ahead]

18 weeks & 3 days.
18 weeks & 3 days.

Vincent looks mostly like his dad, except for around his eyes. This baby seems to have my profile, poor dear. You might scoff, but you actually can tell quite a lot from an ultrasound.

The ultrasound went much swifter than I expected — when I was pregnant with Vincent I remember it taking upwards of an hour. Vincent was fascinated and only slightly restless, and what a show the baby put on for us, wriggling around like a fish. Everything looks great and normal, so I’ve opted not to have the amnio.

And the news that (a teeny-tiny percentage of) you have been waiting for: it’s a boy. Unquestionably. And unsurprisingly — this will be Lance’s fourth son — he only makes boys!

[End of Baby Bulletin.  Regular programming will resume presently.]

Arts & Crafts & Parenting.

Mmmm..."ice cream".
Mmmm..."ice cream".

We experimented with play-doh today. Overall a success: Vincent did not eat it, and nothing disastrous happened. Vincent is tremendously proud of his “ice cream”, though it looks more like poop to me. All about perspective, as usual.

It was a busy weekend of work. We hosted the novelist Galaxy Craze at the bookstore on Saturday. What fun! She’s my age, with a 4 yr old son and a 3 month old daughter, and several of her friends attended with their children, in particular an adorable set of 4 month old twin girls. It was a total baby-fest! Galaxy gave her reading with her daughter in her lap, while the mother of the twins nursed one in hers.

Could you imagine a more complete mingling of art and family?

After the reading, we talked pregnancy and parenting and birthing. I’ve been getting over a cold, so I refrained from baby-cuddling, kept my grabby hands to myself. But there was something so joyful about having so many young children cavorting about the bookshop, about conversation among a circle of creative parents.

It reminded me: when Vincent was 7 months old, we attended a New England booksellers’ trade show, where we met Jonathan Safran Foer. Jonathan also has a son about the same age as Vincent. I’m a big fan of Jonathan’s novels, and thought I should engage him in conversation about them, being a conscientious bookseller and all, but the last thing he was interested in talking about was his books. Vincent was being his most adorable self, cuddled on my shoulder in a sling, sucking his thumb. Jonathan admired him to a most pleasing degree, showed me pictures of his son (also adorable), and we compared baby notes. It was bizarre and tremendous — given the time, we could have talked all day. Seriously. All day. About our kids.

So is it like this for all new parents, writers and all? You might publish books to great acclaim, but these new beings, they’re amazing, and that’s got nothing to do with you, you’re just the lucky caretaker. And that’s the most interesting thing right now, nothing else compares. Not that you don’t continue to do what you do, which is what you are, a writer. But what you are has expanded in the most wonderful way.

Anyway, I don’t want to give short shrift to Galaxy the writer: I especially loved her new novel, maybe because the main character is a 14 yr old girl, an age I find crushingly hard, and the centerpiece of the story is an intense friendship between 2 girls that, while I can’t relate to the particulars, is definitely spot on. I hope she’ll find many readers!

A Lost Week.

“My heart beat thick.”

I think that’s the correct quote. It’s from Jane Eyre, and I’ve never forgotten it (quite) due to Dr. Heineman’s professorial diligence back in 1990, her vehement attention to a writer’s very particular choice. (From her I also learned the proper pronunciation of “vehement” and “awry.”)

All respect to Jane, but my heart beats thick every day these days. Between the heat and the pregnancy, air feels hard to come by. And time. How did it get to be Saturday already? I don’t think I accomplished a single thing of note all week. Except for the ultrasound. And I did read Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart (which I loved, marvelously inventive, then began Inkspell a little while ago. I have an advance reading copy of the final installment of the trilogy, Inkdeath, which is why I began it — I hate to wait, I try not to begin series until all the books are available. Harry Potter is the only exception. Well, George R. R. Martin is too, but he tricked me by splitting his previous book in half…) And I also found what I hope is the perfect Father’s Day gift for Lance.

Oh, apparently there are those who were under the impression that this ultrasound would tell us the sex of our baby. You are mistaken. This is a first trimester ultrasound, undertaken because I am of “advanced maternal age” purely to check on the well-being of said baby, whose sex, at 12 weeks, is still a mystery. It’ll be another 6 weeks for that. But while the official results won’t be out until sometime next week, everything does appear to be just fine. Baby wriggled around like a healthy little tadpole, and we all squealed at the monitor.

Then we left the air-conditioned health center and wheezed in the heat. Or was that just me?

“The Mist”.

We did not drive to the coast yesterday — both Vincent & Lance had colds, so we went out for breakfast at Foxtowne Diner and walked to the playground in the morning, and had a quiet and restful afternoon. My idea of a good day.

Which I needed, because I woke up in a foul mood: on Saturday night, Lance & I watched “The Mist” on DVD, based on the novella by Stephen King. I don’t watch scary movies, because they’re scary movies, they give me nightmares, but Lance didn’t want to watch it alone. So I watched it with him (“Honey, could you turn that light out?” “NO.”). And as scary movies go, it was pretty damn good. Most horror flicks these days are just exercises in masochism & blood, but this was very character-driven. Which is why the ending is so awful. Not merely shocking, but wrong wrong wrong.

If you haven’t seen it, and don’t want to know the end, don’t read further, because the movie’s conclusion is different from the one for the novella, which leaves the characters driving through the mist, not sure where or if the mist ends. In the movie, after you’ve watched all the struggles & deaths of some great characters (how could they kill you, Ollie, o the injustice!) 5 characters make it to the Land Rover and drive off: the main character, his young son, a blonde school teacher, an older teacher played Frances Steenburgen, and an older man. They drive through scene after scene of wreckage until the gas runs out. This is where things go awry.

Now Lance tells me the following scene is an homage to a scene from the docudrama, “The Night that Panicked America,” which is about the airing of Orson Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” He says that part of that film focuses on a family’s reaction as they listen to the program on the radio: a father, mother, young son, and the grandparents, in a panic, flee their apartment by car. Driving down a tunnel, a firetruck approaches from the opposite direction. The father’s panicking, mistaking the firetruck for aliens, and he holds a gun in his hand — contemplates killing his family rather then letting them fall into the hands of aliens. Before he can do anything, the firetruck overtakes them, and tells them to go home, for crying out loud, this is a tunnel, what’re they doing, get out of the way. Chastened, they return home feeling foolish, but safe.

Back to “The Mist”: the father, child, woman, & older couple sit in the Land Rover surrounded by mist, out of gas, and hear ominous sounds approaching. By now we’ve seen all the awful creatures in the mist, so yes, we, the audience, are aware that they are in grave danger, stranded like that. But it’s been 2 hours, they’ve fought like hell to get that far, so when the father looks at the gun in his hand and counts how many bullets are left (“Four.” “But there are five of us.”), I don’t really believe he’ll do something so daft, especially to his sweet little boy. But the next scene pulls back to an external shot of the Land Rover — the interior flashes, four shots. Then back to the father, who howls into the steering wheel, then gets out of the car to call to the monsters to come and get him.

Instead, the cavalry arrives: the army, row upon row of tanks and soldiers with torches, and they push back the mist. The father sinks to his knees in horror. Roll credits.

Monsters didn’t keep me from sleeping that night, but outrage. And Lance, who made me watch the film in the first place, says, “But it’s only a movie.” Which is so breathtakingly beside the point.

I think this will all tie into poetry, or at least writing:

Maybe the filmmakers were going for an ironic ending, but it’s a cheap shot, and completely unfair. Let’s face it, a horror flick is not where you go for verisimilitude, and the least you should get for your time and high blood pressure is a hopeful ending. Redemption. Genre films should not be trying to buck convention, they’re all about convention. If I want bleakness and despair, I’ll watch an independent film.

That said, I’d accept the depressing nature of “The Mist”‘s conclusion if it seemed earned, but it’s all wrong for the characters as they’ve been portrayed throughout the film, the people we the audience have come to know and root for. They’d keep fighting!

Here it is: the conclusion of any piece of art is only believable, true, if it’s been earned. I tend to rush early drafts of my poems to the end, I’m good at endings. But then I have to go back and work to make those endings right and satisfying. Otherwise I’m left with some good lines, but a bad poem. The people behind “The Mist” worked to create a really compelling film, and ruined it with a “shocking” ending. This is one of those times I’d actually appreciate an alternate ending in the extras bit on DVD!

Thanks for listening. I feel better now.


On another topic entirely: Lance questions me every day whether I’ve posted the news yet here, and when I intend to, so I guess I’ll go ahead, seeing as he’s told everyone and their grandmothers since we found out:

Yes, I’m pregnant, due on Christmas day (poor baby), which makes me 7 weeks along. I will make every attempt to not regale you with pregnancy tales. Unless you ask. I will only say now that, as with Vincent, so far everything’s great, no morning sickness, just fatigue and ravenous, I-could-eat-my-desk, hunger. After our initial surprise, we’re very happy — I’m one of 6, and always wanted Vincent to have a sibling closer in age (his half-brothers are 20+ yrs older).  We weren’t exactly planning for one soon, but we’re excited nonetheless. Vincent is always sweet with babies, so hopefully he’ll be happy too when the new baby comes home, and not rage against being knocked from his only-child-prince’s perch. Good times.

Black Eye of Night.

For the past month or so, I’ve been working on weaning Vincent — he’s 2, it’s well past time. When he was born I thought he’d have been weaned many moons ago, but this last year has been full of changes, which he’s been a really good sport about, so it just wasn’t going to work to deny him his one constant comfort. I also hoped he’d wean himself, some babies do, but no, he’s interested in giving it up not at all.

So I hardened my heart and began a new ritual: every night at bedtime, we still go to his room and say good-night to Pooh & Elmo & Tigger & Doggie, and he nurses and goes to sleep. But when he climbs into our bed 4/5/6 hrs later and tugs on my shirt, whispering, “Please?” (think Earl in “Waitress”), I whisper back, “No, go to sleep,” and give him a kiss.

What follows varies, according to his level of fatigue and health. On good nights he only whines for a minute or two, before giving up, turning over, and going to sleep. But bad nights are bad. Like Monday night.

It was around 3am. Vincent’s nose has been running like a spigot, he’s developed another hacking cough, so he’s not feeling very well. Thus, when I said, “No, go to sleep,” he did not react as a tired mother would wish.

He cried loudly, kicked his feet, and when none of it worked, he got up on his hands and knees and used his head as a battering ram, giving me a nice little shiner. Then he put his hands to his own head and moaned, “Boo-boo!” Indeed.

Luckily, between my glasses & the dark circles already ringing my eyes, it’s not been noticeable, though it’s taking on a yellowish cast now. He did go to sleep, almost instantly, after giving my boo-boo a kiss, and he’s kissed it at least once every day since. But this is certainly not how I envisioned the weaning process.

I would absolutely do it all again, yes. Nursing has been not only rewarding, but very convenient: I don’t know how I would’ve been able to bring Vincent to the bookstore those first 8 months if I’d had to deal with bottles etc. in addition to everything else. We’ve been very lucky.

And let me add that on those good nights, right before he gives up and goes to sleep, he whispers, “Kiss!” whispers, “Hug!” and must have both before he turns over.   Very very lucky.

As I slowly slowly detach my little barnacle boy (yes, I’ve used this in a poem), here is a poem I love by Naomi Guttman from her collection, Wet Apples, White Blood (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), for which nursing and motherhood are driving forces:

Milk Muse

Morning’s palest hour wakes me —
the baby takes my dripping lumen
then sleeps again.

I open the door to hear the tide.
Nothing moves, not even the rabbit
paused by the clothesline,
not the beach grass, cool in the dew.
The sky is close.

Copernicus displaced us
sending Earth adrift —
no more circles, but ellipses,
no crystal spheres,
but planets tethered to the sun.

I want to hear sky music, a concerto
made of partial light and shadow,
available to all who wake
between two stillnesses, to climb
into Orion’s outstretched arms,
lean my head against his giant shoulder,
and be lit within —
a brand new constellation
nursing the stars.