Saturday, December 02, 2017

The Smiling Host

Their feet are freshly scrubbed, and now
Their bellies will be filled--we know how
they feel, those quarrelsome disciples
gathered around the meal.

But what must it have signified to You,
Their humble host, on brink of sacrifice?
A foretaste of what You would win
Your view within the room that night.
To hold each foot, fouled and rough,
And make the reeking flesh come clean.
To watch them chew the broken loaf,
Their bushy beards amassing crumbs,
And cheer their spirits with the wine
That stained their wagging tongues.
The Love that animated Your travail
Must have rejoiced to see them eat their fill.

Now, having as well been purified,
I join my fractious family at Your board.
In remembrance of You we sip, divide
The loaf. Oh let me not be inattentive, Lord,
Nor abstract this full-bodied rite to empty rote.
I begin to see there is no better place
Than here, where by Your favor I am brought.
Here my clean soul can feast upon your grace.
Here I can feel my Savior's smiling face.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


The houseplant you sent home with me,
And called "easy" to keep alive,
Did not stay green.

It needed your plainspoken blend
Of active love and common sense.
Wisdom, I mean.

That was your way. You had the knack
Of calmly keeping things alive,
Mostly unseen

By those who flourished under it
Amidst your cakes and coffee mugs
And china clean.

We now see that, though it may be
A simple kind of daily grace,
It's not "easy."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Cast Iron

Fiery love alloyed your heart to mine,
and since we yearned to stay that way
were spilled in that prosaic mold
to have and hold.

Some think this labor to save love
is love's demise.  They say that we
trade poem for grocery list, degrade
the loveliness of love to mere utility,
or to the rust.

They don't  know how the shimmer wakes
in seasoned iron by the flame of daily use,
or how richly of all flavors it partakes.
How in its essence it retains
that cleaving elemental bond, and so imbues
with its own enriching nature all it feeds.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Birth Story

The day before you were born, your dad and I went out to Mother Earth Garden Center and purchased potted plants: Peace Lily, African Violet, Coleus. We didn't know that you'd be born the very next morning, but we knew it would be soon: you were six days past your due date.  I'd been having painless contractions for months, but I did notice that day that they were seizing me more often, lasting longer.  Jonathan, aware of this, teased me about going into labor, and I smilingly brushed the idea off.  "I can still talk through them, " I'd explain.  "Besides, I don't think I've really dropped--do you?  And I haven't lost my plug yet. I definitely haven't had my water break. At this rate, it'll probably be another week!"

Even so, my eyes must have mirrored the sparkle in his as we drove home.

Hours later, Jonathan greeted the news of my first unmistakable harbinger of imminent labor with a droll British accent: "Aha! The bloody show!"  I was so excited, I sent cheery texts to my doula, Andrea, and your grandma: Early labor!  Yay!  

That initial gaiety, unsurprisingly, did not persist.  Around 10:30 pm I began to understand everything I'd read about the uniquely excruciating sensation of true labor: waves of it robbing me of my power of coherent speech--although not, as Jonathan and no doubt every neighbor within a block of our house would attest, my powers of incoherent vocalization.

Your dad was a champion.  He brought me water and pillows.  He called the midwife, Diane, to inform her that labor had begun.  He ran my bath and massaged my back and turned on an episode of "Brooklyn 99", all while timing my contractions.  He cracked jokes to make me feel better.

At several points during the night he noted that my contractions, although still a bit unpredictable, were frequently meeting the standard that meant we should start making for the hospital.

"Abby, I really think we should call the hospital.  We should at least have Andrea drive here."  He was anxious, but I reminded him that first labors typically lasted a whole lot longer. The idea of arriving at the hospital with hours and hours of labor ahead of me so bothered me that I kept putting him off.  "Not yet.  I'm sure we have hours to go.  I just want to be home as long as I possibly can."  So I stuck it out,  on my side in the dark tepid bathwater, moaning loudly through the increasingly powerful contractions.  I didn't admit to myself that half my hesitation was simply because I dreaded the whole process of transitioning to the hospital in my current state.

Turns out, I was IN transition.  When Jonathan finally overruled me and called Andrea, she, hearing my wails in the background, ordered us to call the hospital and get ready to leave.  She was on her way.  Diane was alerted that we were coming.

I suddenly allowed myself to realize that I was well into labor.  Every time I moved position--from the tub to the toilet, pulling my clothes onto my shivering body, stumbling to the living room-- fresh contractions would debilitate me.  When Andrea arrived, she gave me a rushed breath-coaching session that quieted me down significantly, and she and Jonathan supported my failing legs to the car.

It was just after 5 am when Jonathan pulled into the vacant hospital entrance.  I relied on him and Andrea to support me through two more contractions on the walk inside, where a security guard fetched me a wheelchair and directed us to the labor and delivery ward.

I don't think the nurses there believed I was very far along at first.  They showed us into the delivery room and helped me onto the bed.  Jonathan mentioned my desire for a water birth as Andrea continued coaching me through the quickening contractions, and the staff started to set up the pool.  Moments later, Diane and her midwife-in-training Christy entered the room, smiling hugely despite their sleepy faces.

They did my first cervical check, and Diane announced, "She's a 9."  That news accelerated the pace of the room considerably, and filled me with a wash of relief.  Almost there!

I labored on the birthing ball awhile, and then was assisted to the wonderful warm tub with the jets, where my water broke at last.  Christy's face loomed over mine, and she calmly mentioned that it appeared there was meconium in the water.  The birthing pool was going to be off limits.  I didn't even care at that point: another contraction was seizing me.  Your dad's jokes had abated but he stayed nearby, and I found his presence incredibly reassuring.  He and Andrea took turns holding my hands, while the midwives reminded me to breathe, relax, breathe, relax.

At this point all my energy was focused on surviving each contraction.  Between them, I felt my body go limp and could sometimes muster a smile or a nod in reaction to comments or directives.  Then I would feel another starting up, and would summon my reserves to meet it (one at a time, Abby, one at a time) even as part of me shrank, willing it to just please please stop.

By and by it was time for another check.  Back to the bed to suffer the examination, which revealed that it was time to push. I got into position on the birthing stool.  Jonathan sat behind me, supporting me as I strained through each contraction.  They were so much closer together now, relentless, with a new sensation of burning as the pressure increased.  The midwives were smiling and telling me they could see your head.  I could touch it.  I found the strength each time to push harder and harder.  In the next few days I would realize how much this phase had required of me by the soreness in my biceps, but in the moment all my focus and feeling were concentrated on the excruciating work of birthing you.  Labor, indeed.

Fifteen eternal minutes of that, and then you crowned.  The little head I had touched moments before finally pushed out, and the rest of you slid after it, and you were a bright-eyed slippery perfect baby girl out in the world at last.

From the start you were alert and strong, holding your head up and latching immediately to my breast so I didn't even have room in my psyche to worry about the ugly aftermath of delivery, because of the shocking all-encompassing joy that filled every cell in my body.  As all my physicality moments before had been focused on birthing you, now it was completely awash in the experience of holding you, leaving no space for pain or weariness.

This is when the photo documentation can take up my story far more vividly than I can tell it, and I hope you see everything I struggle to say: our joy, love, exhaustion...and your fragile beauty. 7 lb, 4 oz, and 21 inches of sweet sweet human life.

It is six and a half weeks later.  I have healed, and we are a family at home, developing a rhythm around your tiny life that already feels natural.  I reclaim that crushing love and happiness each morning, waking beside your bright-eyed fragrant infant body.

Welcome, Florence Abigail.  You are so worth every bit of it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

February 24, 2015

Tonight is band practice. Exploratory guitar strains and vocal commentary drift through the dim downstairs rooms from the attic above, and I wonder to myself if the stirrings and kicks that pulse just beneath my swelling belly are my child's response to the strange chords and voices.

This final week of February marks the first week of my third trimester.   It has been a long and difficult month, but interspersed with a handful of happinesses.  Mimosas and Mexican baked eggs by candlelight the morning of Valentine's Day, before I left for work.  Jonathan in his Mr. Burger trucker hat and blue flannel shirt, improvising a goofy song on his bass guitar for the baby after dinner.  The installation of tile and a toilet in our gutted bathroom at long, long last.  The first house show for Flowerstalks, and the first time our home has been fit to host since last September.  Yellow tulips somehow making the dining room come to life.  Today's wonderful stroll with Jeremy through the frozen marshes bordering the Rice Creek trail, cattail rushes tossing the sunshine just ahead of us and rattling brightly in the breeze: the only time of year when one can safely trudge through swampland.

And each day the thrilling pulses and flutters of new inscrutable human life lifting me out of myself, into wonderment and joy.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Welcome For Willa
New-minted infant, Pioneer,
no matter that under this sun
is no new matter.  You are new.
You have only now begun
as an inimitable self to know this place.
Familiarity will grow, and with it an
attendant tendency to bear contempt
for earth's redundancy and imperfections.
Contend against this inner bent.
Happily apprehend
that one convention of this world
is irrepressible renewal.
The song of the lark: five notes unfurled
day after day, that bless us yet.
And more than that:
The first secrets remain intact
and potent still to dazzle and confound.
Let long acquaintance make you fond,
but not complacent.  Living thus, you'll do your part
to keep this ancient garden green
and ardor kindled in your heart.

"And now the old story has begun to write itself over there," said Carl softly. "Isn't it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years."  -Willa Cather

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Men expecting yet another sun / To do the shapely thing they had not done"

(Richard Wilbur)

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I've known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.