Stop up the keyholes and draw the shades.
Awakening is touching a candle-
wick with a match-tip: a burning smell,
some flickering light, the little roar
of chemistry. You cannot remember it later.
Some woman long ago drank caudle, laboring
in a dim room, stroked by a midwife. Forgotten.
Even my great-grandmother's suffering
was never told, save for the last birth, seventeen
years after the rest. Go to the pictures,
Father said, and the elder children grabbed
the coins and ran. They didn't know and he
was ashamed. The newborn small and powerful,
distilled from the ether, dreams, old rain.
My mother's dress was pressed, her lipstick
pink. My Brylcreemed father drove her around
and around the block until midnight passed,
evading the charge for an extra day.
The nurses strapped her down and hours
of pain vaporized—she did not believe,
in the morning, that I had been born. Who
is that dark girl, her eyes like the first mud,
effervescing. A stranger, a to-do list.
Books say there are good births, but I
don't believe it. All beginnings hurt
someone: the animal, the ground. So much
to witness and all of it slipping away.
Unlock the cupboards, lift all the lids
in the house, to open the womb. Cast rushes
on the floor and heat milk for bathing. Touch
honey to the infant's tongue to wake her hunger,
to sweeten her voice, for she is thinking even
now about the darkness and how to say it.