"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mary and Elizabeth

Mary was wearing a borrowed white cotton maternity shirt that reminded Elizabeth of spring, when she herself would give birth. She wondered if she too could borrow the pretty shirt after Mary had her son and didn't need it anymore. Mary sat on the couch and lifted the shirt so Elizabeth could see her smooth, round belly. Elizabeth was intimidated by the vast expanse of skin, the winking belly button eye. Wait, wait, Mary said, here, here, he's kicking. Mary put Elizabeth's hand over her warm skin but the baby did not move. She waited for awhile and then took her hand away.  Elizabeth rested her old bones back on the couch next to Mary. Mary smiled contentedly, feeling for her son's movement. Elizabeth was worried. Elizabeth, the older one, first in most things, would be second to give birth. She thought of her own burgeoning belly and aching bones and chastised herself for not doing the necessary exercises to feel limber and young. She thinks of Mary giving birth, of the muscles inside her clenching, of Mary screaming and sweating for hours. She worries there will be complications; there always seems to be complications. Labor is a woman's work; she must descend then, into the underworld of pain and one by one surrender each organ to the work that must be done to bring a child into this world. It is great effort combined with great sacrifice. She wonders if Mary considers such things, but she doesn't ask her because she knows Mary doesn't want to talk about it. She has told her so, several times before. But Elizabeth can't help but weigh the alternatives; the descent into the underworld of pain or the wash of numbness to accommodate an acute slice to the womb. Cutting the womb seems to her a sacrilege, an invasive intrusion to such a serene place. Women have told Elizabeth about the sheet that hides all, all the blood, the sharp metal utensils, the baby itself. “Youth is given up to illusions,” she once read. “It seems to be a provision of Nature, a decoy to secure mothers for the race.” But Elizabeth is not young.
Why is this portal of birth so severe? And if she is drugged and feels nothing, is she somehow at fault for not doing her woman's work? Will the baby suffer for it? Will it become obese and lazy, non-committal in relationships?
Mary has researched all the necessary accoutrements for her baby, including but not limited to car seats, cribs, changing tables, etc. She has forwarded websites to Elizabeth regarding these items, as well as other articles on pregnancy. She avoids all deli meats and especially goat cheese. Mary knows the size of her baby week by week, and its corresponding fruit or vegetable size. Right now she's got an eggplant and Elizabeth two lemons for the twins she carries. Elizabeth remarked how that seemed right, because the saliva in her mouth was continuously spewing out, as if there was something exceedingly sour and tart inside her. But she was overwhelmed by the information, by the accoutrements, by the nausea and she did not have to tell her sister this. “You need to be grateful,” Mary told her. Elizabeth reprimanded herself for her feelings. Yes, grateful. But still, why is nature so cruel?
Work, she tells herself, not cruelty, preparation; a woman must begin practicing giving up her own needs, her independence and it begins with pregnancy.
Mary tells Elizabeth the baby is doing something with his hand; she can tell the difference between the hand and a foot now; she is that in-tune. Elizabeth herself feels nothing inside her but the groaning of her ligaments. She feels guilty for each one of her aches and pains. She feels remorse for her heavy thoughts.
Mary pushes up her girth from the couch, pulls down the white cotton shirt and kisses her sister good-bye. Elizabeth watches her leave, how she maneuvers herself through doorways and down steps. “Blessed, Mary, are you as a woman,” she thinks, “and blessed is the child you will bear.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nature's Grace and the Rise of the Diaphanous Moment

October 23, 2011

A blight has taken the maples; their leaves are shriveling before they take on exuberance. I find this unsettling. Last week, I walked the beach one gray morning and there were long strings of fish eggs, gelatinous red masses that suggest a salamander's hand. Josie crouched every ten feet or so with her ball between her paws and nudged it down for me to kick. Sometimes she pulls a Charlie Brown and takes it away from me before I get to kick it. Other times I hit it haphazardly, still others square on and it glides across the broken mussel shells. We play this little game while making our way north toward Dane's Beach. I reasoned then, how the clouds were padded so thick and the water lapping at the shore was not unlike a womb. But then again, I see wombs everywhere these days. So I walked the beach northward in my water womb world thinking of the blight in the maple trees and Annie Dillard's essay on “Seeing”, feeling like I should write something similar. I was inspired, but jealous. Dillard's close observations of the uninterrupted natural world are breathtaking:

At last I stared upstream where only the deepest violet remained of the cloud, a cloud so high its underbelly still glowed feeble color reflected from a hidden sky lighted in turn by a sun halfway to China. And out of that violet, a sudden enormous black body arced over the water. I saw only a cylindrical sleekness. Head and tail, if there was a head and tail, were both submerged in cloud. I saw only one ebony fling, a headlong dive to darkness; then the waters closed, and the lights went out.


What I see sets me swaying. Size and distance and the sudden swelling of meanings confuse me, bowl me over. I straddle the sycamore log bridge over Tinker Creek in the summer. i look at the lighted creek bottom: snail tracks tunnel the mud in quavering curves. A crayfish jerks, but by the time I absorb what has happened, he's gone in a billowing smokescreen of silt. I look at the water: minnows and shiners. If I'm thinking minnows, a carp will fill my brain till I scream.

I notice the difference between adult gulls and their yearlings, how the yearlings follow their white breasted mothers crying and calling out continuously until she gets it in her head to take off over the waves. The babe follows. She tricks him, boomerangs back. (Will the independent artist spirit in me want to flee her crying children?) He figures it out, turns around and lands beside her crying and crying. Sometimes she relents and feeds him with a scrap of oyster or clam. He still cries. He is bigger than her, speckled, dirty-looking, incessantly demaning. She is svelte white with a touch of gray and a strong yellow beak. In the sand, there are rivulets, water trickling in arabesque designs. I think of taking a picture of a section, undisturbed, without footprints nearby, but then I walk along and forget about it. I walk and there is always something that interrupts my walking, a bottle, someone's lost pile of dogshit, the spray paint defacing the stone wall advertising the rights of Occupy Boston. I look northward to the Misery Islands with the power plant at my back; when I have to turn around, I regret it, because my view is spoiled by stacks and tanks and power lines. I'm jealous of Annie Dillard's uninterrupted nature, her startling moments as a witness to nature's grace.
Such glimpses are never guaranteed, never expected. They are gifts and the surprise factor adds to the element of grace, like the day I walked the paths through Phillips aside the reservoir and saw the specter of a deer's tail. (It must have been a buck; they're more clandestine). Josie went to investigate and the deer evaporated in mid air. There was another chance meeting, with a hawk, also in Phillips. I saw the full breast of him, speckled, his regal sloping shoulders and prominent beak, the glance of his eye. He spied his prey, spied me, his prey again. He ascended upward like a god, above the canopy. Then there was the owl in Ravenswood, walking with Maureen and Ralphie. My father had just died. We saw a flurry of gray; I can still see him looking down upon us, his stern brow. I thought my father's spirit occupied the bird; something had to drive him there; I wasn't one to see owls.
These brushes with nature's wild grace, totem spirits, are too few for me. I have a hunger for more, but there is always time and logistics and money that keeps me bound to home and routine.
But I have my own nature's grace happening inside me, lest I not forget. I try to commune with these little beings, imagine myself inside myself. Here is a poem about that:

Diaphanous Moments

Water rains down
from the roof of my mouth
and pools at the ligaments
of my tongue.
This morning my uterus
coughed up a dustball,
the discarded claws and dander
of the rabbits burrowing silently
in the soil of my womb.
I place myself inside myself
and witness the slow crawl of atoms
of silence and sinew and sweet-meat.
I spy, float between you,
tethered by thought strings.
See there, a twitch, a solitary stimuli,
the trajectory of a comet aside
vacant ovary moons and a whirling
saturnine bowel with probing eye.

I open my eyes
and the solar system shrinks.
There is a dark cave to my stomach;
out belches dust, the murmurs
of the supine and sleeping hares.
They feed. They dance.
I am chained to this incubator,
to these belching caves.
I pray for the blessing of the fleet.

People tell you all sort of things.
Secrets. Lies. They hoard
the glistening pennies in the well.
They say nothing.
I wait for those diaphanous moments,
those gems when I see
my child hand in God's hand,
my child's hand in my hand.

There is a footpath
off the precipice.
It too is diaphanous.
It spans the length of the chasm.
I walk there, blind.

I can only reach them through imagination and poetry. Yes, there is the ultrasound machine and yes I revel at their images, but science is the intercessor. The babies are on the screen are away from me. My brain can't comprehend how the pixels describe their universe inside me.

My sister says that when you feel them move, you know. That bit of quickening, that kick of baby limb, tells all. Until then, I will have to reach them in other ways.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bittersweet Grace

October 16, 2011

As of late, I have felt too tired and sick to realign my mind so the default status of depression and frustration has virtually usurped me. I'm not particularly sure why depression is my default status, but I surmise it may have to do with the profound dissatisfaction I have with society. This is no new news. Perhaps it is the mounds and mounds of junk mail we are bombarded with, or the trite, impersonal conversation between myself and my neighbors, or the ridiculousness of television (most especially the vain, schadenfreuden-esque reality shows) or the vision-less, idiocy of the tea party wack-nuts, or the abusers of children, women, men, animals and/or the environment, or the wounded veterans, or the monotony of marriage, or my miniscule paycheck for the mounds of effort I put into teaching. To combat all of this, I escape into imagination, my writing, and I haven't been able to do that. I haven't been able to fully recuperate from the world. Moreover, the house is a mess, there is hair everywhere -both mine and Josie's- toothpaste globules in the sink, the ring around the tub, an endless supply of dishes, the crumbs on the kitchen counter. What I have found is that virtually everything in this world takes some sort of effort, and to realign your mind is no different. So what I sit down and meditate for today is grace: the gift of well-being and peace that comes without effort.
This past week I experienced grace for the first time in years. I have been especially apprehensive to carry three babies, but I decided to do it because I could not bear to “reduce” one. So I was going to involve myself with the monumental effort of carrying triplets. Last Friday when we went for the ultrasound to see how they were progressing, Baby A and Baby B were jumping and gliding across their sacs like little nymphs. Baby C, however, was curled on itself, still. There was no flickering of heartbeat. I wept when I saw the little thing. Baby C had given up. I did not realize this was grace at the time- I was filled with grief and empathy because Baby C, believe you me, I feel like giving up too, sometimes, and I say to you, Godspeed, little one, stay behind the veil until you've got all the strength you can muster up to make it into this world, because, my angel, it will take nothing less.
So I was spared my efforts and bittersweet grace had descended and I pray with great fervor for the two bless ones who remain.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I am in limbo, that place between Heaven and Hell where my unborn wait with me. In the world of limbo, there are dreams. In the first dream, I am back at our house in New Jersey. My father bought it back, some twenty seven years after he sold it, and it has been reconstructed with an indoor pool and expansive rooms with views of Lake Como (limbo dreams apparently have no sense of space). I was excited to go back and live there, to swim in the pool, call up my friend Noelle, go for walks in the woods. But despite this excitement, there was something inside me that said this was all wrong. I had no business being at the house anymore. I wasn't that person anymore, a daughter, a sister, and only these. I should, something said, resist the temptation to back to the past. Next thing I know, I'm riding a bus and Anne Sexton is the driver. She tells me to get off because I've got too much baggage. (I've got too much baggage, Anne?) I take my cart of baggage and roll off the bus into the green grass. I push the cart home, but then everything disappears. Next thing I know, I am at Lollapalooza or some other music festival and one of the musicians makes fun of my Italian heritage. I charge him and we fight, but the fight is more like a dance. I wake up with a horrible, sour taste in my mouth. I am sick again. I am pregnant with triplets.
If you look up the word limbo in the dictionary, you will see that it is a place between Heaven and Hell for the unborn and unbaptized. It's fitting for the triplets and me; they are unborn with respect to earthly life; I am unborn with respect to motherhood. I think we're all afraid. Or maybe they are not afraid and I am; they seem to know exactly what they are doing. But maybe I'm not caught between Heaven and Hell (although at times, it certainly feels like it); maybe I'm caught between the past and the future, between what I have known and what I will know. And what I have known is safe and glorified and what I will know is, right now, terrifying and unreal.