I spent the last few weeks in LA, mostly waiting for a grandson, who was born just a week ago. More about some LA sights later this week. Suffice it to say that there is plenty of weirdness in the sun-drenched streets of Venice.
In the meantime, Larry reminded me of this wonderful poem by Donald Justice. I’ve mentioned him before in these pages:
Late arrival, no
One would think of blaming you
For hesitating so.
Who, setting his hand to knock
At a door so strange as this one,
Might not draw back?
Certainly, once admitted,
You will be made to feel
Like one of the invited.
Still, because you come
From so remote a kingdom,
You may feel out of place,
Tongue-tied and shy among
So many strangers, all
Babbling with a strange tongue.
Well, that’s no disgrace.
So might any person
So recently displaced,
Remembering the ocean,
So calm, so lately crossed.
I love the way Justice uses rhyme and half-rhyme in his stanzas. And looking at the wide-open eyes of a newborn gives just that feeling of a being who is lately come across a strange, unknown ocean.
An odd thing about this poem is that if you look for it online, most versions have only the first two stanzas. How strange!
And here’s another take on birth, from Sharon Olds, a brave poem, glistening like birth. It’s from her first book, Satan Says. If you like this poem, and haven’t read her work, you have an amazing world to explore. The Gold Cell is the first book of hers I encountered. It was recommended to me at a cocktail party about 30 years ago, when I was complaining that there was no good new poetry. Happily, I was wrong.
The Language of the Brag
I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw,
I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms
and my straight posture and quick electric muscles
to achieve something at the centre of a crowd,
the blade piercing the bark deep,
the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.
I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,
some heroism, some American achievement
beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,
magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot
and watched the boys play.
I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire
and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around
my belly big with cowardice and safely,
my stool black with iron pills,
my huge breasts oozing mucus,
my legs swelling, my hands swelling,
my face swelling and darkening, my hair
falling out, my inner sex
stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.
I have lain down.
I have lain down and sweated and shaken
and passed blood and feces and water and
slowly alone in the centre of a circle I have
passed the new person out
and they have lifted the new person free of the act
and wiped the new person free of that
language of blood like praise all over the body.
I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,
Allen Ginsberg, I have done this thing,
I and the other women this exceptional
act with the exceptional heroic body,
this giving birth, this glistening verb,
and I am putting my proud American boast
right here with the others.
2 thoughts on “The Late Baby”
I had two very different reactions to these two very different poems.
The Donald Justice poem gave me the perspective of a newborn, while Sharon Olds’ piece gave me the perspective of a mother. To the first one I thought, oh, how beautiful — I was there once. To the second one I thought, oh my gosh, I could never do that. Thank you, Meryl for sharing these amazing works.
You’re welcome, Gina. Love your comment!