Primapara: Daily Dose of Art and Poetry

Primapara: Daily Dose of Art and Poetry

Nativity by He Qi
Nativity by He Qi


by Celia Gilbert

(The medical term for a woman who has borne one child)

Pigeons on the ledge, midwives,
iridescent motion, a babble
of fates.

A loneliness bigger than my belly,
the waters,
the mystery indwelling.

Nobody talks, nobody sees,
spread-eagled on the clock counting.
Sun flames and sets, moon swells.

Omicron to omega, cervix dilates,
flicker of memory: sand and furrow,
cave and castle.

Trays rattle in the hall.
No sky now, just pressure, hammer.
I’m a creature that ripples, pants,

struggles, to get free,
a snake with swallowed wealth,
an engine primed to change,

a cartwheel, head over heels
to the burning ghats.
I hear them say, “She’s crowning”—

crowning a wrinkled head,
a new, royal personage
descending, trailing

its corded bridge,
its rainbow afterbirth.
And my body— the long ship—

the ark— rises up watchful
and light, wide-eyed
above the foam.

+ + +

Since it’s still Christmas season, I wanted to get in a Nativity picture or two. This one is by Chinese artist He Qi. I don’t know much about him. I stumbled across his work a couple of years ago while Bella and I were searching for images of the Conversion of St Paul. His was very different and caught our eyes. I’ve gone back to look at his page. I think at some point I might buy some posters of his pieces. If only I could decide which ones.

The poem I stumbled across this last week while looking for something else. It seems appropriate. I’ve been thinking about childbirth lately, not only with the Advent and Christmas season but also having friends and family giving birth, and remembering Lucia’s birth only a year ago.

This poem isn’t devotional or overtly religious, but some of the word choice does put one in mind of the birth of Our Lord while at the same time being applicable to any woman who has given birth: the mystery indwelling; the baby who is crowned, a royal personage who descends; the mother whose body is an ark. And the juxtaposition of the image of the rainbow and the ark. Even the pigeons on the ledge remind me of the pigeons (or turtledoves) that Mary and Joseph offered when they presented their son at the Temple.

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