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Labor Pain

To keep the pain at bay
I walked the halls
Past doorway upon doorway
Of women being attended to.

Pain being my only attendant
We shuffled on together
Passing the hours by counting
Steps and doors,
Contractions and screams

Yet I walked in shameful silence
Even after all these hours,
To exchange the pains of labor
For the pain of Empty Arms.


The Lie

The question hangs in the air
like particles of dust in a sunbeam,
and I answer in muffled tones.
I notice the clattering of cups
settling into saucers,
and feel the silence descend
while curious eyes search me out.
"I don't have any children,"
I repeat. Ashamed.
I feel the sweat beading up on the
fine hairs of my upper lip,
and trickling down between
my unsuckled breasts.
And now that the lie was spoken
it was as if
I had backed out of the room
and stood,
looking in.


Never have I touched your hand
Seen your face, your eyes
While sharing
Pieces of myself I tell no one else
Yet you are more to me
Than most who share my blood
Some who share my life
You are the first I strive
To share my joys with
The one I lean on when things go wrong
Always I've found your arms
Open and waiting and willing
Your shoulders strong
And you feel to me a sister
An echo of my heart
My friend
I hope more than anything else, that today brings all of you comfort and love.


I can tell my story.
The story of the boy she never saw,
the story of the boy I held only once,
gingerly, for five minutes, while the starch-
faced nurse waited impatiently, her back
turned, her cold disdain burning me like dry ice.
I sat motionless in my bed, taking in his damp
red hair, his even redder face, the tiny clenched
bundle of fist that lay outside his blanket.
I held him as if he would break:  "this is my child."
The child who had spent the last months
kicking and swimming inside me, the one
I had walked the beach with at night, the one
who had become my muse, my center of joy,
had painted my days with poems of light.
"My child.  No, someone else's child!"
I handed him back and the white figure left me
alone in my dark room
while she cooed him to the nursery,
bright with the cribs of babies
with two parents each.

Now that she is gone, I can tell my story,
everything that changed from the moment
that heavy door closed, everything
that stayed locked on the other side,
that grew silently in the dark,
year after year, like strange mushrooms
with names like "empty" and "undeserving" and
"never," "nevermind," "why?"  Never mind
that she never knew, that she only ever held
one grandchild - a girl, not mine - never mind
that was the one secret I wanted most
to tell her, but never could. Never mind
that she would have forgiven me,
that she would have told  me
to forgive myself.  Never mind
that she was the only one
who could  have held me in her lap
so I could finally cry.


Don't you know your mothers
are lost too? We are
out in dark forests, searching
for you, calling into silent
treetops in moonlight, turning
over stones on dry riverbanks
at dawn, looking in the afternoon
foam of clouds reflected along
a sparkling beach, peering
into the solid darkness of mesa,
mountain, southern holler,
delta plain, hill of green
pines, desert like a sea. If you
hear us, wherever you have wandered,
if you hear us calling you, please
answer back, even if it's from great
distance, even if it's echoed, faint,
far away. When you hear your own
mother's voice, you will finally know
your true name, even if it is
in a language of another country.
 Debby in NC



IĄ¯ve carried you beneath my heart,

and now must let you go.

There is no final comfort

in decision; for I know

that you will not remember this,

or me, as I do you.

The years will take you ever farther

from my reach, and view.

Now other eyes must cherish you,

and other arms embrace,

and strangers offer solace

for the troubles that you face.

Now other tears will fall for you,

and other voices singĄ­

Yet this I do, that you may never

want for anything;

not even distant echoes

of my weeping as we part,

the name I name you, or the thunder

of my breaking heart.


Good-bye Tommy

July 23, 1968
author unknown




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