Birthiness

Birthiness

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” –MLK Jr.

inescapability

I’m more often than not in a stupefied silence on the Monday dedicated to MLK Jr.: a man who knew how to use his words, to pack them with an indomitable spirit.

That “single garment” he speaks of is our true—albeit metaphysical—receiving blanket when we come into this befuddled world.  His accuracy squeezes out of me a tiny, Monday prayer: may we have the ability to recognize what surrounds and connects us.

Speaking of.  At the crowded Food Co-op, where no one is, in fact, cooperating, I spend most of the afternoon making up a missed shift.  This involves wearing an unsexy green smock and unloading other people’s shopping baskets.   It means I get to touch a lot of vegetables.

like these european counterparts

A kid with wind-burned cheeks and messy hair holds up her would-be dinosaur and roars at the check-out worker, who pays no attention.  She digs the creature’s mouth into her dad’s butt, through his coat. RRRRRRRRRRRRRR, she exclaims, emoting for the glutivore.

Yikes, I say, you brought your dinosaur!  That thing is scary and it looks hungry!

Excuse me, says the little one.  It is not a dinosaur.  Someone left it at my door this morning.

Well, what is it then? I ask, always ready for a new fact from a young person.

Not a dinosaur, she insists.  So don’t call it a dinosaur!

Ah: to call a thing what it is is a delicate art.  She lets out a great roar, while the co-op members mostly keep their own inclination to roar quieter than persimmons.

Being Fruitful

Keats said:  I feel more and more, every day as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.

Do you too sense the thousand realms nested inside this one or inside which this one is nested?  Winter shakes its fists, holding its mood-rings up to the dim light, and the realms knock into one another like Matryoshka dolls.

In the center of the dolls, in the center of the realms, is the tiniest, carved from a single piece of wood, which cannot be opened further: an amaranthine infant, eternally fresh.

It Ends with a P

My goddaughter, M, sneaks into the guestroom just before dawn.  I have a candle lit, as I have already done a little practice in the throaty dark, and awaited the interruption of her bare feet and four-year old pajama’d squint.

M stands in the doorway with one hand on the knob.  She’s all business:

Can we do what we do when I get in bed with my Mommy and my Daddy in the morning? She’s at the age and height where her eyes are level with most doorknobs, and so everything is an opening.

Of course, I say.  What’s that? I pull her into the room.

Pretend that I’m being born. M is precise, as if tracking a blueprint for play in her mental toy box. I’m in Mommy’s tummy and then I come out.

from the cover of BIRTHING FROM WITHIN. a ladder i long to climb.

We climb onto the futon agreeably to embark on the adventure of birth.

Why do you have a candle? She asks.

To prepare for your birth, I tell her.  And because it is so nice and cozy.

O, she gives an appreciative nod.

She doesn’t know that I’m a parturition junkie, always, somewhere, in a fetal state of mind.  Is it the bursting forth? So, do you want to get under the covers in a little ball and we can pretend you’re in Mommy’s belly?

Yes, she say, as royally as Marie Antoinette accepting Louis’ giddy, misguided proposal.

Do you want me to show you what we did when you were in Mommy’s belly?

What did you do? She says from under the covers.  To feign a time when you only half-existed is—apparently—instantly exhilarating.  She’s already drunk from spelunking in the womb.

We talked to you, I say, just like this. I put my mouth close to the curve of her back and call: Come on out, little baby, it’s the end of August, we’re ready to meet you, come see us out here in the world!

She giggles. I feel her belly shake through the connective tissue of the sheets and blankets.  O.K. M agrees, much more quickly than she did before labor, her voice muffled by the bedding. I’ll come out now!

Your Mommy pushed and pushed you out, I tell her.  Mommies work very, very hard to help babies come out.  And babies work really hard too.  Everyone is excited.

She nods as her head slips through the invisible cervix, as if this was all very obvious.

dilating post facto

We talk about her first hours in our company in the hospital room, while Ernesto the Hurricane spat rain all over the city and pawed at the trees. I run an APGAR test on her, which she passes with flying colors: but her grip is the grip of one who is already familiar with the world, and its sometimes-partings, and the slightest flavors of uncertainty.

M leaves no self-stone unturned, inquiring about what we did on her first night in the hospital (um, slept?), when had grandpa arrived, how babies know how to eat.  We make it all the way through her first months of life in about ten minutes, as dawn is showing some muscle between the slats of the lowered blinds.  Lots of diaper changes happen lickety-split, with no fuss and no mobiles offering their rotating solace.

When you were a baby, sometimes it was difficult for you to poo. I tell her. So we helped you by rubbing your belly just like this. I make gentle circles on her tummy with three fingers.  Her gaze rolls to the right, where memories of babyhood live behind her ear like a barrette, the deep temporal zone.

Her little eyes light up with digestive glee.  You squirmed a lot, I say.  But when you could finally poo, you felt better.

Can I ask you something? She wants to know, with all the openness of a tabula rasa.

I prepare myself for a whopper while she contemplates her budding question—Where do babies come from?  Why do people die?  Why is there a hair on your chin, are you turning into a man?

Instead, she asks: Why do you say ‘poo’ instead of ‘poop’?

O, I reply, caught off guard, sure we were about to veer into the realm of the kinks in the mortal coil.  Well, they are really the same thing.  Sometimes I forget the ‘p.’  It’s like a nickname.

A fecal one?

Well, can you just say ‘poop’? She requests, solemn eyes like synchronized full moons.

Of course, I say.  But if I forget, I need you to correct me.

O.K., she says.  POOP.

Since life must go on, we go on.

allies in continuance

Going On

Before this year, I’ve had an allergic hatred to this season, where you can feel extinction in your bones like a stone in congee: inarguable and hard.

windowscapes

If that picture isn’t proof then…

But now, I’m making it my business to practice absolute loving-kindness towards winter.  When I can do this successfully, a kind of meteorological metta, I notice that winter is not so bad at all.   And since weather, like other humans, is a complex thing ultimately out of your own control, to extend goodwill towards an unbearable season bears fruit.  Strange fruit.

Look: there is ample light behind the clouds.  Sure, it has to push through a bunch of gray to be counted in the census.  But.

I return from the Park, where I am gradually teaching myself to jog by asking, “What would Gandhi do if the End of Suffering were just one lamp-post further?”

Keep going.

Sweat beads roll beneath my layers.  The Buddha-fairies in the shrubs chuckle: Dude, End of what?  The Four Noble Truths pull on their cross-trainers with arch supports and their maroon, nylon track-suits.  They jog beside me with perfect form and their shoe-laces, unlike mine, never, ever come untied.  The park yawns.

Dusk.  Park Slope families are dragging sleds back to their houses for the dinner hour.  The sound of plastic over salted sidewalks. The kids, by and large, are trudging dramatically.

Approaching me on the street is a man in full snow gear, his head covered in double hoods.  On one side of his chest, a tiny baby is prone, protected from the weather by a tan onesie made of animal hide and pelt.  The man is stepping so softly along the sidewalk, as if each fat snow boot is asking the ground for permission before its tread touches down.  Not to wake the baby. The baby rests the way only a held creature can.

To be held like that.

a lap as big as a mind

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9 Responses to “Birthiness”

  1. Erin Says:

    Bursting with love. This is. And I am. For you.

    How did you manage to wrap up so many beautiful things in this blogpost-onesie?

    Ah, “to be held like that,” indeed!

    Your words are lucky creatures. Or, I should say, we are the lucky ones for getting to hold them so.

    • saraknowsyou Says:

      I’m having a bit of a verbal pregnancy to bring in the new year.

      You should see all the paragraphs that didn’t make it in. Actually, you shouldn’t.

      I also didn’t include my grabby side: I was really coveting that baby’s onesie. Can an adult have onesie-envy? Would Henry James?

      • Erin Says:

        If Henry James does not, my paper on him does — for it longs to be wrapped up tight and snuggled off to sleep.

        Now if I could just put it down and walk silently, backwards out the door.

  2. saraknowsyou Says:

    You could do that, but the wandering Jew would probably just follow you with a Yiddish primer.

  3. James Says:

    As a child I was a dinosaur expert and enthusiast. I knew all their names, eating habits, and who would win in a fight. Now a dinosaur with no name presents a metaphysical problem, suggesting as it does the remnants of an inescapable network of mutuality gone to fossil and rendered a toy. Only a loud kid in a checkout aisle comes close, eschewing authoritative labeling and in a subversive act of street theater becoming the dinosaur. The metaphysics of biting the ass that feeds you.

    • saraknowsyou Says:

      You need to unpack this comment for the readers, yo.
      The kid was insisting it was not a dinosaur! I think the kid’s point was ontological: it was not a dinosaur.
      What IS the metaphysics of biting the hand that feeds you? Is it related to straining your tea through your own fingers? Explain.

  4. wildliterature Says:

    I think the kid was simply pointing out, as my daughter did one day to a mom who told her son to get his tractor (“actually, it’s a backhoe”) that we should be precise in our naming. It’s hard to say that any better than “James” (how formal!) said it, though, so I’ll let it go. Meantime, Sara, you have done your usual gestation with language & it comes out more or less fully formed after you dispense with the placenta-like detritus that were sentences clinging like stone to some gems. love, r

  5. rick benjamin Says:

    o, my long comment didn’t make it somehow in the submitting process, so I’ll simply write that “James” (very formal) has it more or less right, like the time my daughter, just a toddler, informed a mom in the sandbox after she told her son to grab his tractor that, actually, it was a backhoe. sara, as usual, has it right, her gestation having brought forth language that says it all with the urgency of new life & life ongoing. very sweet missive. love, r

  6. Sara Says:

    But your long comment made it to my inbox? Shall I repost? It’s as if the above post was put in a (mental) cuisinart– same-ish words, different places!

    I’m right now so absorbed in the aphoristic and yet humbly triumphal language of John Odonohue I can’t even formulate something….formulated.

    With huge love &
    playing musical chair with myself,
    S

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