A poem inspired by the strange irony of making ‘birth plans’.
Print 2 copies and keep in birthing bag First, note: / by the time she arrives at the birth suite, the mother will already be underwater / sunk and rolling / unravelling across the horizon / you must find her / you must bring her in / this is the birth plan we / have made together / there must be scented candles / clary sage / juice and muesli-bars we plan / that she will be able to eat / will be able to walk / will catch the lift / find herself in a strange country / you call it her body / she will just breathe / please do not offer drugs / please do not crossly examine / a dimly-lit room with relaxing music / the atmosphere calm with no unnecessary / it is the birth partner who will call the parents / the birth partner will call the press / do you understand? he says / do you realise what is coming— we have made / a playlist / we require wifi / you will have our cooperation should a medical need arise / while she is rising and falling / while delving and coming up empty / avoid referring to ‘thresholds’ or ‘levels’ / that she is located somewhere in the Atlantic should be enough / at this point the mother will start to resemble her mother / a mirror may help to reflect her progress but do not let the mother see her face / she begins to be haunted / the spine cracks / ragged flags wave in imaginary wind / she is surging / she is in storm / it’s all part of the plan / her body now scattered far-and-wide across many oceans / the birthing person will be supported in the bath by wife / husband / mother-in-law / oldest friend / intermittent Doppler or EFM / never insert your fingers into a surging birther / please do not move her until it has passed / assume birthing positions of choice / the midwife will make coffee / none if the membranes have released / the midwife should be like an old school chum / the partner / will learn the romantic languages of birth / to teach gently / while you attend / surge they will say, not ‘contraction’ / intensity never fucking pain never ohhhhHHH GOHHHHDDDDD / not ‘failure to progress’ / just. / what— / what is happening??? / minimal (if any) vaginal examinations / patience to allow without ‘moving things along’ / the birthing parent will enter a / state of hypnosis / they cannot really / hear you / the birthing parent / is no longer ‘I’ / is no longer / future / the birther speaks / all present tense / all tongues of beasts / they bellow buffalo / they roar brown bear / they are wounded shrike / and wailing ghost-gum / they are disappearing / they are lost / the birth partner will bear / all bruises and despair / the birth partner will quietly, wisely leave the plan / crumpling under sweaty knee / will breathe as one / say at once they have never been this close / the birth partner will forget the contraction-counting app / leave it running / for three years Finally, the mother will give birth to herself / a co-parent / two sets grandparents / ancestors / a universe / and also death / delay cord clamping until after pulsation has ceased / this is our birth plan / we look forward to sharing this special time with you / it is now 28, 865 hours, 27 minutes and 48 seconds since the last contraction
‘Print 2 copies and keep in birthing bag’ appears in Australian Poetry Journal 12.1, edited by Esther Ottaway and Scott-Patrick Mitchell. Purchase >>
Three years after my daughter came into the world, I came to appreciate the irony of creating a ‘birth plan’. For me, the reality of going through a 54-hour labour was so divergent from my understanding of clinically ‘normal’ birth, I was still questioning it two years later. Did I count the days wrongly? Had I drastically misunderstood what occurred in my own body?
I know my experience is a minor thread among the many ways that women’s and birthing parents’ voices are made irrelevant in their own birth stories. I so deeply appreciated the editors’ custodianship of these themes in issue 12.1. It allowed me to explore the inevitability of divergence in the especially personal and embodied experience of birthing, whether it follows a clinically ‘normal’ path or not.
The melancholy magic of walking in the Blue Mountains.
Blackheath It’s not right to be awake late at night, here: there’s secret business down in the gully between the darkness and the trees and it must be obeyed. So I wait until the morning’s walk to bear news of our liaison to the discerning ferns. My skin carries your heat. The daring stringybarks shed their robes, and discard them in heaps at their feet. They step lithely down to the creek, dip their toes in the cool dark water. (Sometimes we find they have died in the night, and fallen headlong into it.) And today, the thick old chopping block is shredded to rags. I stand on the deck and watch clouds whip themselves black, and you speak me that impossible verse, twisting your hat to a furball in your nervousness. Nobody intervenes. But night falls again on Blackheath. So we follow the law of the storm the way the beasts keep each other warm. intervenes. But night falls again on Blackheath. So we follow the law of the storm the way the beasts keep each other warm.
‘Blackheath’ appears in Cordite Poetry Review 103 ‘Amble’, edited by Sarah Gory and Elena Gomez. Read >>
The obligatory pandemic poem! Or, how the inside of my head looked after 91 days of lockdown.
’91 Days’ appears in Best of Australian Poems 2021, edited by Ellen van Neerven and Toby Fitch. Purchase >>
A poem of desire.
and then in the deep moisture of a subtropical / night in August / we both know / it is time for our bodies to meet / as we clean our teeth / I rehearse / my breathless fear / that you will be weak and worn out / that your skin will be clammy / that you won’t reach me / yours is a body I can’t read / it is closed and enclosed / in presupposition / in warnings / in social quarantine / I fear / that the story of this night will be / that I love you but lovemaking is merely endurable / yet I can’t keep my hands off you / as we slide into sheets and the creek pulls darkness over its sleek / uninhibited progress and you touch me like / reaching the sun on the other side / of the earth you are all right there / surging to the surface of your thin limbs / you kiss like wild ginger / pushing itself against the moon / your touch is like / depth charges in / open ocean / a soundless / booming / over and over / it is still felt / in my depths / right now / years later / where I try to trace the imprint of us / in a language / tainted by horror of sickness / tainted by saviours with other needs / than the pure thundering desire / that leaps over my tact / as I forget / to love you tender but press / your light frame with my full weight / as I consume your sweat / your salt and vinegar exudings / and your sweet tenacious breath / I / climb toward / you / hand over hand / wrapping your DNA around my wrist / making my way along your genetic chains / seeking out a language that is worthy / of touching your body / when all our words have been spent / on the ways that you are incomplete / when it tells me you are ailing / emaciated / hunched / infected / and my pleasure says: English, you’re drunk! Go home! / and all my nerves and organs rise in fury to inscribe / this passion upon its absence / here where our bodies meet as equals / here where you pull away gasping for air / where infirmity and eros have / the same oceanic eyes / where language leaves us to this / slow stroking of soft / white curtains / blowing over our bodies / at dawn
‘and then’ appears in Australian Poetry Anthology 2020, edited by Melinda Smith and Sara Saleh. Purchase >>
A fairytale re-told.
Wild and Tangled (A Beauty and the Beast poem) Under a powder-blue sky with drifting smoke there’s a back road that no one has cause to take A fence with leafless rosebushes skulls of steers guard the gate The house is ringed with rambling sheds where heavy, sharp, and grinding tools are kept A garden wild and tangled, flecked with flight of red-capped fairy wrens And you have heard: here lives the beast. He has such shining fur, such shining eyes so diamond-sharp and pale You think you’ve never seen anything so male Everybody wants to touch him shygirls-oldwomen-straightmen, everyone wants to tangle handfuls of that mane Those gleaming claws appeared no more than fine, articulate fingers The way he looked at you and saw the blood that beat beneath your skin seemed evidence of grace All you want to do is follow every rippling cloud across his face Wrap yourself in muscle Sleep on growling chest And you think you are the only woman who’s tucked herself into his house drunk the beer he handed you and thought, ‘He is my life now,’ with quiet thrill. You don’t believe a thing they say in town Besides, those shunning only serve to harden beastly natures of their own And look: how he has time for all of them Lavishes feasts of smile and wit Makes angelic visitations Spreads his redolent length upon the verandas of the lonely You don’t need anyone else He is huge enough to make up for your smallness He protects you and you are scared. The dream is to reveal what he is hiding under clothes Perhaps the good man he grows to be Perhaps rank pelt wafts of sweet manure, sticky burrs, sweat and fear It’s you alone can lick and soothe and clean away that fear Your roots hold fast You weather droughts with your wordless friends They flit about, the little wrens with drops of blood bright on their heads You’re nothing like those other women who he tore apart For you have read the story Transformation at its heart where beast is human and human, beast. Then it is only a sign of intimacy and trust to hear at night The cries of swallows in his garden, crushed whose nests he batted down with thwacking paws The cries of cattle whose sides he slashed and left a bloody feast for flies Or the cries of wallaby whose graceful necks he snapped dragged hot fur on the forest floor And the rumours of women to whom he did all of this and more. I do not mean to say that nature cannot change I saw you stray on that road, the stones obscured utterly with bracken Where his scent lay thick with spreading, powerful warmth And it is far, far too easy to say that we must simply know our value refuse to be his prey You would not be called away Nor should the burden of that choice be yours Perhaps his transformation is only ever wrought beneath the teeth of other beasts their particular smoke-and-fire talk Not by all the heroic strength with which you followed his twitching tail into the scrub escorted by flashing reptiles and the startled flight of birds.
‘Wild and Tangled’ appears in Heroines Anthology 2022, edited by Sarah Nicholson.