NINTH WARD, MATERNITY - Poem by Dan Coman
i enter the ninth ward a sheep hung at the neck.
the security guards take me for a priest
keep following after me
keep lifting the sheep like on a cross
kissing it on the muzzle.
and this scared sheep hidden in my clothing as in the grass
causes tlinda to burst out laughing.
before she rises from bed
i see how slyly she arranges her beating heart as though
arranging a peasant skirt under the table.
birthing-birthing, stale fragment of air over a kitchen sink
as the nurse pushes in with her needle, zzzt,
the sheep at my neck sleeps now, like some bats
the other women hang their heads down,
careful not to unsettle the milk.
birthing-birthing, from this fragment of air comes nothing.
i sit on the edge of the bed and from the compote i open
first trickles of coffee.
like a small field of weeds
the powdered milk has invaded the shelves
casting shadows in the room and in these shadows
tlinda seduces, massages the other milk.
i see all too well: her sad and confused
signaling me to help
and then i slip my head under the blanket
slip my head into the gown to the height of the breast
i press my ear close but hear nothing
perhaps, i say, mother's milk makes no sound
and then summoning courage i squeeze the breast a few times
and the nipples snap like fingers
but apart from a burst of fresh air in my eyes
nothing, not a drop.
don't worry tlinda, i whisper, don't worry
my comforting words stain her gown like cabbage rolls.
it's late now, better you go
and i know from her blushing
that it's time to nurse i start to go
but suddenly, in the ninth ward, life begins
row after row of women beginning to breathe to whimper
and rising now the way coffee rises an umph ah oy
slapping stomachs with both hands
the sound of milk in the breast like a jet of espresso
row after row rising up to form a perfect indian chain
they begin to rock begin to chant
praise for natural breast milk
one after another laying hand to shoulder
then making little circles with their feet
and hop-hop one by one hop-hop out of the ward
and here goes tlinda well behind the rest
red-red in the face and
without that hop-hop in her step
there she goes leaving with a bottle of formula in her arms
as if she went with a sack of potatoes
as if she went out directly her breasts exposed
making no sign for me to wait
and so i wake the sheep at my throat
we walk like the women, those who've just given birth
and sneak into the ward bathroom
for a smoke.
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