Tuesday, June 5, 2012

'Joseph' by Michael Woods


It was all tension
in the delivery room,
and you still seemed
glimpsed galaxies away,
pouring your heart out
in the automatic writing
of the foetal monitor's pen
that traced its racing.

I heard each beat
as an outside broadcast
through a squeaky speaker
live-wired to your scalp.
These electric things made
more than a potential difference
as the nurse noticed your distress.
The machine plotted nothing
and found its origin.

Shocked into memory
all I recalled was our first
virtual meeting in those
early scanning days when,
searched for like fish by sonar,
you showed up shadowy
in your secret space, waving a hand to me
that could be a plesiosaur's paddle,
a coelacanth's fin - semaphore from
an oceans away womb-home,
moon distant where you had landed.

Then, in the blink of an aeon,
you broke radio silence,
translating yourself again
into the language of graph lines.


I saw you born from water
into air as you barged
into the summer.
You were an astronaut to my eye,
space-walking from the mother ship
but blood-roped still,
already miming our every voyage.

It was the quick slow motion
of it all that lives in me -
you coming from your sea of tranquility,
washed up by the amniotic tide;
that suspended second when you looked
and held me in the forever of your face,
before you drew breath,
before you cried.

Copyright Michael Woods
from 'Absence Notes',  2011,  Templar Poetry
Reproduced with permission

                                                Editor:  Kathleen Jones

I've just been reading  Absence Notes - the first collection from Michael Woods - and this poem really stood out.  It's a beautiful poem about the birth of a child from the father's point of view rather than the mother's, and that's what makes it unusual. We don't often hear about birth from a man's perspective - aren't often reminded that bonding is just important for them as it is for the mother.   I like the images and metaphors, 'blood-roped'  - the womb astronaut. 

Several of the poems in this collection are about family relationships - Carol Ann Duffy in a review noted that it 'maps the events and connections which shape our lives - childhood, parenthood, friendship and love.'   Michael is an authority on Gerard Manley Hopkins and there are echoes in some of the poems (particularly the title poem 'Absence notes') which link back to Hopkins.  Apparently every collection should have at least 3  'Wow!'  moments.  This is definitely one of them.

"Michael Woods was born in London.  He is married with three children and teaches English and Drama in Malvern, Worcestershire.  His poems have won several prizes and have appeared in a number of anthologies.  As editor of Tandem poetry magazine, he has sought to promote the work of young writers.  He also runs live poetry events at the Lamb and Flag pub in Worcester."

Kathleen Jones is this week's Tuesday Poem editor, currently living in Italy.   She is a biographer and poet, whose first collection of poetry  'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21'  was published in November 2011.   She  blogs regularly at 'A Writer's Life'.

Once you have enjoyed "Joseph", take some time to enjoy the other poems posted this week by members of the Tuesday Poem community. You will find them all listed in the sidebar.


Ben Hur said...

Really enjoyed this. Kathleen. Thanks for posting. As you say, not many poems about birth are written from the father's perspective.

In some ways, medical technology has rendered birth a safer, and yet somehow more alien, experience for both parents. At least, Dads are usually allowed to be present nowadays, unlike the days of yore when the God-Doctor called all the shots. And no wonder Mary Shelley was terrified of childbirth (so they claim) because mothers dying in childbirth was all too common in her day.

Mary McCallum said...

Such a beautiful love poem that pushes into the womb - the beginnings of a person - some terrific images - 'wow' in fact - the foetus pouring its heart out to the monitor... the baby as astonaut... Thanks for much for this, Kathy.

Mary McCallum said...


Helen Lowe said...

Kathleen, a wonderful choice. I love the magic he has wrought with his images, all so apt yet making what is in some ways small and individual, also universal and cosmic--and thereby also underlying that it is not small at all...

Ben Hur: Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecroft, died giving birth to her, which may have made her fear that much more personal, although of course death in childbirth was very common anyway.

Mary McCallum said...

John Masefield wrote a wonderful poem about his mother giving birth - and about what women generally go through to perpetuate the species -- it's a wonderful proto-feminist poem. His mother died when he was young I think, rather than in childbirth - but I might be wrong.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks for all your comments - it is a love poem to his son. I also like the way it reminds us that things don't always go smoothly even now, though the terrors Mary Shelley faced aren't quite so pressing. I lost two grandchildren at birth, and it jolts you into the realisation that all that technology can still fail to prevent something happening. Didn't know about the Masefield poem Mary. Can you remember the title?

AJ Ponder said...

Great poem - and I agree the use of counterpoint imagery gave it not only a fresh flavour but an underlying sense of all those brave new world concepts we associate with space travel.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

This is definitely a 'wow' poem, Kathleen. I was particularly moved by the images of fossil-like, prehistoric life in the first section - plesiosaur's paddle, coelancanth's fin, etc. - followed by the futuristic space travel in the second. I thought it was so well conceived (!)

JLC said...

Thank goodness the poet had a chance to imagine? inquire about? the father's perspective. My first trues sense of mortality was with the birth of my first child--and without the presence of his father. I saw then how it was possible to die giving birth. Yet that isn't the burden of this poem for me. The evolutionary theme is what struck me. It's as though the father perceives what the mother has no time for while she's in the midst of the experience. Wonderfully affecting poem.

Helen McKinlay said...

Firstly how special to have for a father one who can write such a poem!
Reading this I am made aware of how communication has changed between the growing baby and the father. An incredible mystery made even more mysterious by glimpses of a scan.
It's interesting he doesn't mention the feel of the baby as it grew the movements and even the sight of hands and feet pushing at its mothers abdomen. But I enjoy the clarity of images throughout. I thought the name Joseph related to one of the first famous dads but maybe it is the child's name?
A poem for all son-in-laws. Thankyou!

Michelle Elvy said...

This is such a gem, and the discussion is really great to see, too. We all have our childbirth stories to tell/share, but what makes this especially strong, for me, is how it moves back and forth between talking about life at its most basic level into something so much more complex (yes, I like what Elizabeth notes too), and almost unreachable and indescribable (moons & galaxies away...). I especially love the voyaging in here. It's so full of mystery. So full of life and connection. Great choice. Thanks for sharing this!

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks for all your comments - and glad that you liked my choice this week! Mike will be very pleased that you made such connections with the poem. He's a really nice guy and a good poet. Personally I loved the layers of meaning and association in the poem - Elizabeth and JLC's evolutionary comments - Michelle and AJ Ponder's intergalactic voyaging - there's so much in it. But at the heart of it always that wonderful connection between father and son before and after birth.

Piokiwi said...

Loved this - very much a 'wow' poem - the journeying from scientific possibility to real, and suddenly vulnerable, human being. Love the image of the astronaut exposed but also now made real.