ON BEING BORN ON GOOD FRIDAY 55 YEARS AGO A POEM
55 (x 2)
Nothing could have prepared me
For being born
In Montreal, not even the long
18th century, the little ice age,
Or the summer my father learned
To swim and dive. As stoics
Enjoy saying, ad nauseum,
Death is like thinking
Of all the years before birth.
It barely registers and cannot hurt.
What doesn’t hurt doesn’t make you
Exist, or their other idea, that earth
Mingles Caesar and commoner alike.
It’s a strange comfort to be told
Your time preparing to arrive
Is what death is – so we come
From death; then birth is stealing
From the dead world? This is not
What I want to go on about
In this prattling meandering form
In which I choose to materialise
Before you, which is what poems are,
A way to teleport back and forth –
In time and space, the zoom call
Of their day. All early arts are replaced
Eventually by a better way to sing
Happy birthday or choose a hot date,
Or haggle over shares of some corporate
Entity, itself a metaphor. I was born
On Good Friday in Montreal,
Very small. The doctor told my parents
I would not survive the Easter holidays,
In all likelihood. How this was felt,
Or understood, I was told later.
I was placed in an incubator,
And my parents, in their twenties,
Were sore afraid. They looked at me
Like a warped and hairy monkey,
As small as a baby bird fallen out
Of some high nest. I survived,
And this was described, invariably,
As a miracle, which it was, since
Medicine was less advanced back then.
I don’t feel any grateful surge
Towards the nurses, orderlies,
Or recall my mother’s gloved rubber arm
Caressing my wrinkled, sapiens’ brow.
Somehow, the before and after both remain
Beyond recall, nestled in the space
Some refer to as liminal – a threshold,
Where death and birth are as close as twins,
Neither subordinate to the other,
A sister and brother, curled up
In each other’s arms, not tied to the other,
But not separate either, a perfect alliance,
And no one was any the wiser
As to which would slip back or away,
And whether birth or death
Would be the child they’d meet that day.
This is fanciful, a narrative arc;
Is there a life spark? A moment, a bang?
We know there is conception, or is that, also
Just a myth of science? Contact happens,
It has to, for various materials to coalesce.
Items in a basket jostle, never fuse,
But life is made from molecules that care
Enough about connection to go the extra mile;
But it is probably all automatic, not driven
By a passionate thought. How could it not be,
Though? In some deep smallest place,
That some contorted collider will soon uncover,
Might there be a monkey tinier than me, even,
The fuse we mention in poetry, moving
Planets, flowers, light and love? Dante
Wanted to locate this tiniest factor in love itself,
So love moves love, and love revolves, as love
Too evolves, into a later amalgamation.
I am confused, because I am speaking from
The moment of least knowledge, the ledge
Of the shelf, the interior that is outside, barely.
It’s embarrassing, so intimate, but you could say
Remote. Going back to more homely facts,
My father had a beard, and
Looked like Fidel Castro. My mom drove
A red sportscar, had a beehive hairdo (entre acte).
It was baseball season or would be. In a year Expo
'67 would see the geodesic dome of Buckminster
Fuller built close to our home;
What would be our home, six years later;
The jumble of pieces of a story
That fades constantly, as I think more and more
On what it could mean to have gratitude
For existence. Do I thank lust, desire, divinity?
A gentle embrace that went too far in that red car?
No judgment, but I managed to get more years
Than some emperors, some empires.
Birth never requires an equal magnitude to impress,
We would be blessed however long we endured,
We never know the span to come,
We start across a bridge being built, that finishes
Off into the fog, incomplete, without a sense of
If Isambard Kingdom Brunel engineered it –
None of this is that day, the careful placing of my body
By some unknown medical worker, at the General
Hospital, into the plastic, or glass, receptacle, to keep
That tremulous still-growing creature in motion.
I do not think of the commotion in the disturbed air,
The motes in the bars of sun, any more than I remember
How Brutus saw his blade shine like a porpoise in water
Before he decided to end a tyranny to create a new war.
GOOD FRIDAY 2021