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"Mother of Pearl”
Shelby Graham

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Carol Brendsel

A Pretty Good Start

The head emerges first
all wrinkled like a foreskin, then taut
maybe hooded in opalescent membranes
maybe dark, slicked-back hair
he, looking down, sees her anus
pushed out, a purple rose blooming

and now his nose is free to wonder in the smell of her
her blood, even his own amniotic water, a sweetness,
water he drank and pissed out to drink again
breaks its barricade, surrenders,
swooshing down in great evacuation
rushing to that exhilaration of air

past his ears open to the clanging catastrophe
of her voice
high, a note she has never before sung
and sings now for him

for her, swung wide, wider, widest
those portals of pelvis
that searing stretch of skin
for the unbuckling of shoulders, arms, hands
every finger completed and accounted for
a thick middle and trailing legs and feet and toes
and of course, that long noodle of umbilical cord
and kerplop, that meatball placenta.

The Swinging Door

She wasn’t talking. This pregnant woman was older, wisps of errant grey hair streaked the side of her head, the blond dye was faded and reached only the ends of her ponytail that was pulled back and tight. Her skirt and shirt were tight too, not the stylish tight of pregnant celebrities, but the fit of clothes that could keep it altogether and safe: this pregnancy, this baby inside her.

It was early for the baby to arrive, only 34-35 weeks, but that age could live with the right tending. Only this baby didn’t have the right composure to start with: a body was created but genetically unsound, incompatible with life outside its mother. She had been offered an abortion from the time of its discovery and had politely refused. Maybe she carried a miracle inside her, a wound that could heal, a mistake that could be corrected with right-thinking, maybe prayer.

It’s possible she had other children, possibly with the man sitting at the edge of his chair, his attention on her, but helpless. She paced, one hand on her hip the other loose and with an occasional sweeping motion as if clearing the floor of landmines. The only bomb about to go off was inside her, she knew. The fetal monitor tracing looked lousy to those who worked in maternity, they suspected even if they hadn’t read the chart that announced in bold lettering:
KNOWN GENETIC ANOMALIES. They knew too, though the heartbeat continued its encouraging thump, thump, thumping. It was a timeless time.

She asked for nothing but did ask about the blood: “Was it too much?” And to every nurse who entered the room, “How did the baby look on the monitor?” There were murmurs of encouragement, but what could they say really: “No, it wasn’t too much blood to lose,” and “Yes the heartbeat was strong.” Her doctor, sympathetic to the burgeoning undertow, turned off the monitor, released the bands that held the receivers in place over her belly, whispered “Your baby is coming soon.”

The room was quiet when he birthed, the attendants somber but ready, amazed how hope lights up a room. His body, already dead, passed easily as tears fell from her soundlessly. The promise of life had come, knocked on her door and thrived inside her. How could it be different? Now that door had closed and she greeted his tiny body as she would a living baby, wiping a smear of blood off his closed eyes as if brushing off an eyelash.

There was no hurry now, after birth tasks suspended. What lingered there was unspoken, undefined, the room still basking in an afterglow, a light that refused to go out.

Carol Brendsel does everything she can to avoid writing: making soup, washing dishes, clearing the counters, always something creating order because poems can be so messy. She lives with a companion and a blind and almost deaf dog in Felton, CA by a meadow, a forest, and a creek that is roaring from all the rain.

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Featured Artist
Shelby Graham


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