On the third day I woke to his weary face,
watching from an armchair by the hospital bed.
You know how dreams have boldness
that melts to uncertainty, the minute you put words
to them? I blurted my epiphany –– we’ve fallen
through a gap in the language –– as if that was that,
orphan, widow, widower, but no word for parent
whose child has died. The midwife wheeled her
to me for the final time. I didn’t want to notice
her mouth had opened slightly, the darkness
of the silent space behind her perfect lips.
On the ninth day, after the cremation,
my mother-in-law announced they slipped
her stillborn daughter in a stranger’s coffin.
Standard practice in the Sixties. After the ninth day
days rolled together like blobs of Play-Doh.
The clinic sent an invitation for a check-up.
A receptionist phoned with a reminder ––
and don’t forget to bring the baby.
Passers-by burbled with our toddler in shops,
on buses; she parroted the sentence –– my mummy
had a baby in her tummy but it flew to heaven.
Eyes would dart across at me, she’d stick
her bottom lip out, rub a fist against her cheek.
At twenty-nine, pregnant with her second child,
she’ll totter on the edge of a memory, when it blows
up like a draught of stale air from a lift shaft.
No word for sister left behind.
Anger was my comfort, I couldn’t help
but swaddle it round me. I shook off
the group that met each week for coffee
as our bellies swelled. One woman dropped by
with a card. I watched her stutter the buggy
up our narrow path. I ran the shower
as she pressed the bell. They clubbed together,
Interflora delivered lilies. I ripped them to bits,
rammed the shredded stalks and petals in the bin.
–– Fan out your fingers, float on each pain ––
the midwife instructed when I was in labour.
At Waterstones I ransacked the shelves,
poetry, pop psychology. I delved for answers,
not images, no empty creels, no seed-flesh
no bone-curd, words were vacant shells.
–– Chill, stupor, letting go –– Dickinson
came close, but not till later.
For eighteen months I kept no journal,
started taking risks. Wantonly
I walked under ladders, gave up greeting magpies.
In Barcelona our teacher told us if we dreamt
in Spanish, we’d arrived. All my dreams
were black and white. Black and white.
Afternoons watching classics: Random Harvest,
Mr Chips, Brief Encounter. Celia Johnson
as Laura, mending linen by the fire.
Fred with a crossword in his armchair
after her affair –– can you call it that? ––
is over. I drowned in that concerto, played,
replayed those final scenes –– There’ll come a time
in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore
(Commended in Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine, 2014)
This poem is posted in support of Baby Loss Awareness Week
Marie Naughton’s poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies including Mslexia, The Dark Horse, Southword, Lines Underwater and Her Wings of Glass. Others have been placed in competitions and she won the Cafe Writers competition in 2012. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University. She is a psychotherapist and a counsellor in a high school. She lives in Manchester.