Back to my poetry revisited

Posted: January 3, 2014 in Home
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I started writing poetry in 1981 while I was studying for my  OU degree. Stillborn is  one of the first poems I ever wrote.

By then I had had four pregnancies and was pregnant for the fifth time. However, my first child, a son,  had anencephaly and was stillborn at 32 weeks in 1973. In 1974 I gave birth to Imogen. In 1976 I had another, unaccountable, stillbirth at 38 weeks – a baby girl. Then in 1980 I had a son, Christopher, and a  second son, Jonathan, in 1982.

Suddenly, when Christopher was born,  I could write about the past few years and the two poems about stillbirth came out of this strange mélange of ideas that poured out of me.

What is interesting now is that three years later I wrote again about the death of the first baby, and it was a much quieter and shorter poem, more contrived perhaps and certainly more polished

Stillbirth 1984

Poor hollowhead,
I talk to you in your walnut sleep
but your face forgets to move:
in my arms I hold  a stranger
with voracious eyes,
wound in your yellowed shawl.
Such a thin tissue,
between sleep and waking,
presence and absence:
in dreams I presented you
to roomfuls of strangers.
Now I’m talking to you
but, bone-quiet, you do not answer.
Poor hollowhead,
this is your sister,
who sleeps less quietly
and in your place.

Stillborn 1981

Shall I display this, my house?
It’s clean and tidy, yet
Still there are corners where
The spiders spin and spin, and weave their dirty cloths
And I keep the cellar locked.
Now that this living baby
Curls like a comma in my arms,
Do I lift the latch
And dare to look again into that shadowed room?

This is the cellar
Of my house, veiled and dim.
I have sealed it well.
It is a tomb. In it, intact and undiminished,
Still you lie,
The lonely horror
Of my poor unfinished babe, my mournful error.
I cannot rub you out,
And your reproachful arms reach out to steal

My present happiness
While I repeat numbly,
“Sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry,
Let me try again, and I will reconstruct you”,
But if I open up that door
I’ll know again that
All the “sorrys” ever will not do: I cannot mend you.
And shall I therefore go
Apologising to the end of time, while you

Lie in helpless pieces
In that shrouded room? – I must
Make of you a gritty pearl,
And let you out at last into the light of day.
Your reaching arms I find
Asked only, after all,
For folding inwards to a space already owned,
Which I discover
Has been waiting all along for you.


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