to be

When my daughter was born, I almost died. That may not be true, but it felt that way. It felt that way more than once, in gradations of immediacy, throughout the first year of her life outside of my body. Entering the second year, it still sometimes feels that way. It may also be technically true.

I ate a children’s sundae and drank an Arnold Palmer at Beer Baron. I was nearing my due date, which was August 16, and the day before had made an acupuncture appointment for the 16th to try to get labor started if it hadn’t already begun organically, because I was terrified my baby would be born 10 days late and I’d be stuck with a goddamn virgo daughter to go along with my goddamn virgo mother and they’d take turns nitpicking and anxiety-soaking me until I killed myself. I went to the bathroom and folded some toilet paper and put it in my panties to soak up a substance that was leaking from my vagina, which turned out to be amniotic fluid. When I got back to my husband’s apartment I called the advice nurse who told me we should come into the hospital for induction because it sounded like my membranes had ruptured.

Things I did not understand at that time:

Leaking amniotic fluid because your membranes rupture is not the same thing as your “water breaking”, though technically, they both involve amniotic fluid coming out of your vagina.

ruptured membranes leave the amniotic sac wide fucking open to bacteria and can lead to serious infections, complications in labor, fetal and/or maternal death.

There are far worse things than having a virgo child. Or a virgo mother, or even both a virgo child and a virgo mother.

I was induced. I labored for several hours unmedicated, using breathing and nodes that delivered electric currents to my lower back. what my body was doing of it’s own volition was awfully, unimaginably, shockingly painful. I did this up to almost 7 centimeters. At around the time I began shaking and spiked a fever, I requested an epidural. The painkillers began to flow into my lower back and pelvis just as the Chorio- the infection I didn’t know enough to have been afraid of- set in. At one point, while my body was laboring on it’s own and I was blissfully numb from the ribcage down- I spiked a fever of 103. I had an oxygen mask on my face and I was shaking uncontrollably. My husband was in the room with me, and he was crying because the way I looked, shaking violently with the mask on, was so terrifying. Also, the baby’s heart rate was up and down. I had no idea he was crying. I had no idea I was in a very serious and precarious state, medically speaking. I was just extremely irritated that I couldn’t will the shaking to stop. I had a vague notion in my very foggy head that I should drink water- lots of water- and I kept asking my husband to bring me big cups of ice water, which he did, and I drank them all, not greedily or thirstily, but with an iron will bent on making the shaking stop, and a certainty that if I drank enough ice water, it would. I drank a lot of ice water, and had a lot of antibiotics and tylenol and fluids run into my veins through an I.V, and the shaking did stop. Suddenly, the nurse was telling my husband to hold up my leg. Suddenly, my doctor, and all the nurses and the midwives were there, and some very bright lights were on overhead, and they were telling me to push, and I was pushing again and again, as hard as I could, and I couldn’t feel pain because of the epidural, but I could feel pressure, the pressure of her head descending through my separating pelvic bones, and they said she was sunny side up, and they said she was stuck, and they applied a vacuum suction to her head (it took a couple tries), and they snipped me and they sucked her out, and they sewed me up.

I could make this about my daughter, but everything since has been about her, so I’m going to make this about me.

Things I didn’t know before giving birth:

Giving birth, whether vaginal or surgical, is like being hit by a bus, but unlike when you are hit by an actual bus, you’re not allowed to sleep, rest, recuperate, eat, bathe, care for yourself, etcetera, because the bus that hit you is an extremely helpless and precious and scared and overwhelmed and hungry and tired and very hungry and very overwhelmed and vulnerable small creature who immediately after running over you needs you- ALL OF YOU non-stop, for several months. There is no recuperating. Or maybe there is, but not until a very long time after the moment of collision, by which point, let’s be honest, you’re probably permanently damaged in some way or other. I did not get more than 2 hours of sleep together in the 72 hours after my daughter was born because she was cluster feeding. Which means nursing all the time and screaming and crying in a blood-curdling horrible way when not breast-fed every 20 minutes or so, around the clock. When your brain is flooded with post-partum hormone slushie, it is impossible to not respond immediately to these noises. I was taking tons of maximum strength ibuprofen for the pain in my vagina, pelvis, and specifically the stitches from the episiotomy which were new, raw, and very painful, especially when I peed. If I missed a pill, I spiked a fever. I was too sleep deprived and hormone-addled to realize this was a warning sign and quickly popped some pills to make the fever go away so I could get back to quieting the howling clusterfeeder. A few days later I realized something was very wrong and called the advice nurse who told me I had been masking a fever and most likely had a post-partum infection that had picked up where the Chorio in labor had left off. I went to the E.R. I did have a serious infection. By this time I couldn’t eat without projectile vomiting. Food was disgusting to me. I couldn’t even look at it, and I was producing tons of breast milk which I was pumping into bottles like a one-woman dairy farm because I was beginning to suspect I may have to check myself into the hospital, where I would possibly die, and I wanted my husband to be able to bottle-feed our daughter this milk I was still able to produce because I was still alive. The combination of not eating and making tons of breastmilk caused me to lose close to 40 pounds in a week and a half. I was flagged for sepsis, which turned out to be a collection or lab error, but for a couple hours had me thinking I was going to die of multiple organ failure in a hospital in Oakland, leaving a 2 week old daughter who wouldn’t even remember me.

Reader, I did not die. I am here today, a year and two weeks later. I forced myself to eat 5 ritz crackers and an oral antibiotic twice a day for ten days and after about 4 days I was able to drink some bone broth and by the tenth day I had a bowl of chicken noodle soup, and I did not die. But I came so close to death that it breathed on me, and that breath was cold and quiet- so very quiet- and I don’t think I can ever fully forget it, though I may be able to put it mostly out of mind until the day- the inevitable day- when I feel it again.

To die is to disappear, and dying is the experience of being completely, utterly alone with the quandary of your own existence: your appearance, from nothing, your being, your disappearance, back to nothing. A three act play. being and nothingness and nausea. The whole shebang. I now understand why some philosopher whose name I can’t at the moment recall said that the practice of philosophy is the practice of learning how to die. I think perhaps he meant it is good to think about things, and to consider them well and at your leisure, before you’re on the slab staring at a ticking clock saying “oh shit oh shit oh shit” and suffering physically in a way that is not conducive to arriving at good and helpful, possibly insightful or even brilliant ideas. Yeats said something about man in old age being like a dog dragging the body around like a bunch of tin cans tied to its tail. meaning physical ailment and deterioration sure is a distraction, isn’t it. So practice philosophy. Try to figure something out before you have a pressing reason to. You’ll think better when you’re not crushed by pain, fatigue and fear.

I felt for several months that I had disappeared. I kept saying I am a ghost, I am a shadow, I only exist in the sense that I am keeping this infant alive, she doesn’t know, she doesn’t know I’m dead. Only after the winter (really, after we started sleep training her, and I started getting some sleep for the first time in 5 months, and began doing some reading again), did I begin, like Persephone, to emerge from the underworld, to look around and raise my head a bit like a sun-struck prairie dog when the frost is finally off the grasses. Maybe, I thought, maybe I’m still alive.

 

Things I think about since I looked Death in the face that I didn’t really think about before, except through the lens of literature (Proust and Flaubert specifically):

Aging, friends, memory, the narrative arc of a life, the signifigance or insignifigance of character, what people remember about other people, what they forget. Maya Angelou famously said “people will forget what you said, they’ll forget what you did, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel”. Is that true though? Lately I have been reconnecting with lost friends, old acquaintances who I knew and spent time with as a child, as a teenager, back in Boston. I live in California now. I haven’t lived in Boston for 14 years. Yes, this is related to the fact that I almost died when my daughter was born. I think on some level having gazed into the abyss made me feel a deep need to have my existence verified, to feel around me and find some people who know my name, who remember that I was a 14 year old roaming brick sidewalks and capsizing a mercury in the Charles river deliberately in order to swim in it and shoplifting hello kitty stuff from FAO Schwartz and shooting pool in the bowling hall under Fenway Park, banging on a typewriter in piss-stained doorways and walking through Southie projects at 1 am because I’d missed the last Ashmont train back to Dot. If I was, then maybe I still am. How do I know for sure that I was? Witnesses. I suddenly (and strangely, having been drifting and solitary for years, if not forever, having left my hometown behind in a manner both deliberate and torn) felt a need to call witnesses who could tell me not how I made them feel, but rather what I said, what I did, or at the very least that I was, that I was with them, in Boston, many years ago, and I was as real in my young body and my same name as the bricks beneath our feet had been, as the muggy summer air we breathed. I need now more than ever for somebody to say “I remember that face. It’s so good to see your face again.”

 

Chorio

I came so close to Death
I could see the color of her unblinking eyes
They were indigo
The same dark blue as those of my husband
The same as the eyes of my newborn daughter
a few weeks later with or without me.
Death stared me down to an ache
taunting
just long enough to make me taste the loss of that blue, that all-mine ocean
And then
She let me pass

last samurai (upon reading Helen DeWitt)

Grammars and vocabularies

Kanji, Alphabets,

A single page of translated and footnoted Greek

say, from the Iliad

Which could serve, a thousand years hence, as a key to the scriptures and literatures of human civilization in the 21st Century

The mind must somehow

outlive and live outside of the body

and until this planet casts us off

Words will drape and swim around her

Mind will stand stubborn in the warp and the woof

of her garment

 

it’s like this

At three forty something a.m
I lay beneath the horsehair blanket
of your frustration.
You trilled and sobbed kicked and grabbed your feet.
You rolled and yelled
between your fathers feigned sleep and mine.
Finally he put a hand
on your chest and said “shhh. It’s too early. Close your eyes.”
You glanced at him,
Turned your head away, bucked and wailed.
I imagined getting up, getting dressed,
and leaving the house.
I would walk, alone,
to Happy Donuts.
I would drink  caffeinated coffee and eat a sugar donut
while looking out the window at the dark empty parking lot.
Then, I would walk down to the Berkeley Amtrak station.
I’d arrive just as a train pulled in, and I’d get on board.
I would ride and sleep and ride
until some place looked nice through the window,
Then I’d get off and get a job and a room to live in and start seriously working
on my great American novel.
I snapped out of it.
Who am I kidding?
It would take them three days to find me and drag me back.
Then,
You rolled towards me. Little fat hands clasped under your chin as if in prayer.
You breathed in once, deeply, beside my breast and then,
quiet.
A miracle.

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painting by G.F Marlier

Before

I was once a flowering branch

And tonguekissed

The pride of Amarillo

Leaning across a sticky table in a smoky petite jazz spot in the val de grace

Yes i once clowned at a large mirror in a dim vestibule with the moonglow oracle of bangladesh

I once sat atop a mountain of winter rubble at abandoned coney island and i once dove naked into cheat lake just as the first thunder broke and rolled down the valley like gods bowling ball and the rain came down in sheets so cold it was shelter we sought in the warmer lake water

And i threw back my head and laughed

And all this before i was

Your mother

Jean

My husband’s grandmother has lost many of her teeth
but she put on blue eyeliner for my visit.
She says, “the next time you see me, I’ll look very different”,
and lets out a resilient noise that I’m reluctant to name
knowing I lack the aptitude to name it well and fairly.
She is more beautiful at 90 than she was when I first met her at 88
having foregone hair dye, her hair now white, and long, not messy but uncoiffed
and not wearing an “outfit” complete with flashy cheap handbag,
There is nothing between us to distract or to dull the effect of her eyes.
Her eyes are a pale electric greenish-blue
become striking as they’ve receded into the shadows
beneath her sharper brow-bones.
Jean says, “let me tell you something about music”.
As a child, she loved a piece called Falling Waters
because, she says,
“I imagined how you would choreograph a dance to it”
so she taught herself to play it, by ear.
after two lessons, the piano teacher told the Scottish sisters who had adopted her
out of foster care, and who wanted to encourage her ability,
“I will not teach Jean.
She hears the music
she will always hear it
you will never get her
to read it off a page”.

soft tectonics

A body is a wave                                                                                                                                    a seeming-sudden lift of matter                                                                                                    and it’s immeasurably gradual dispersal

This is a soft tectonics                                                                                                                            I will not mention millions of years, no, a few decades if we’re lucky

and how boldly foolish to say “luck”.                                                                                        What is this “luck” ?

We are the only species, the only life-form to have invented                                                     such a word, such a concept.

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say:

Sometimes the indifferent heft of Chance lands upon you and sometimes                                 it drops its weight on someone else                                                                                                  or in the wilderness, unwitnessed?

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  • painting by g.f marlier

new poems 11/29/17

  A dream
Storm-stopped
en route to Nantucket
I could board a ferry but
I can see from the jetty-
waves as high as a prison wall
The thunderous churning
sends up phosphorus white spray
and whispers fictions.
I decide to inquire at this small public house
in what once was a whaling village
where the bus deposited me
and I’m pleased to learn there is a room they rent by the night
in the tavern tradition
to pilgrims, wanderers, the lost, the storm-stopped.
I have plenty of money and feeling serene
and grown-up, I climb
a narrow buffed pine staircase
to a warm dry cubbyhole under the slanted eaves
one small window facing the ravenous, ore-black Atlantic
one wool blanket on a narrow bed.
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fish-eye
It’s what they call a fish-eye picture
lens curved to create an illusion of expanse
something, yes, of the detached surveillance,
the idiotic lingering of a fish
drumming its fins against lapping water
in dim, silty shallows.
There you are: tan coat, unlocking the door of your silver Prius.
It’s obvious (from the irritated look on your face
and your intense focus on the clicker) that it’s never occurred to you
you’re being watched.
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Shame
A diseased forest
sweeping arms of spent trees
their obscurity born of nature and inertia, not intent-
they permitted no pathway,
no companionship.
Any message chipped in their moldy skins
any mound of stones
was grown over, sucked down into the muck before it could meet
the eyes of an Other who might understand, advance, take heart, encouraged.
The sour smell of abandonment hung close to the ground
a stifling breathable fog.
The sun in those days was just a myth
or an ancient, pre-verbal memory
if someone somehow had been able to tell me
it still
was there
in flamboyant indifference
traipsing above the impenetrable canopy
I would have thrown back
my soft skull
and laughed.

fleet week

Look for blue angels                                                                                                                 over the bay                                                                                                                          early in October.                                                                                                                  Look for wave-worn sailors                                                                                               craving vast rolling softness                                                                                                     in the piss-stained streets of the Tenderloin.                                                          Santa Rosa’s burning to the tips of the tree roots                                                            calls are coming in from all over San Francisco:                                                         “my bedroom/living room/building is full of smoke                                                              but I can’t figure out what’s burning”                                                                 “Ma’am/Sir calm down calmate it’s 200 miles north of you                                         don’t worry it won’t effect you”.                                                                                                          An artist is creating an exact replica                                                                                 of the Golden Gate Bridge                                                                                                             to put next to the Golden Gate Bridge.                                                       My friend says “Good, maybe Sharkzilla will get confused and bite that one instead”

and                                                                                                                                              I had a dream last night that my cousin who thinks the U.S should bomb North Korea off the face of the Earth is actually a really nice guy