Poems & Essays

23 Nov

Café Mollien While Pregnant

Babyhood No Response

I remember the day I walked through
museums in Paris, the Louvre where
blue tilted through glass clouds as we 
viewed the masterpieces. You were 
only a tiny embryo folded inside me, 
as I’d place my fingers on my belly 
and say, here is a Picasso, a Rembrandt 
a Botticelli, to the gentle hush beneath me. 

And it’s funny now, remembering
a moment of feeling so tired, I sat down 
in a wicker chair in a small cafe beside 
the gallery, my legs swollen, I was happy 
when the French waiter offered me a glass
of water with fizz, but when I said I wasn’t 
hungry, and wouldn’t be ordering food,
he took it away, and I watched the sun
dip through the sky through the window

But today I’d like to say, thank you, 
to that server, for reminding me there’s 
always a bit of cruelty somewhere 

to be found even in the midst of beauty.

Carol Lynn Stevenson Grellas is a ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a seven-time Best of the Net nominee. In 2012 she won the Red Ochre Chapbook Contest, with her manuscript, Before I Go to Sleep. In 2018 her book In the Making of Goodbyes was nominated for a national book award and her poem A Mall in California took 2nd place for the Jack Kerouac Poetry Prize. In 2019 her chapbook An Ode to Hope in the Midst of Pandemonium was a finalist in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. She is the former Editor-in-Chief for The Orchards Poetry Journal and Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Tule Review. She is a member of the Sacramento Poetry Center Board of Directors and Saratoga Author’s Hall of Fame. She is currently enrolled in the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing program.

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23 Nov

Desire Line

Babyhood No Response

A desire line generally indicates a shorter or easier route to a destination.  It is a kind of shortcut that reflects a natural impulse towards a terminus.  Sometimes these cuts can threaten the security of an area, causing irreparable damage. 

There is a desire line that tracks its way horizontally across Her belly just above Her pelvic bone.  It curves slightly downward on each side with a bit of a peak in the center.  The indentation of it has deepened as Her body has bulged over time, but when it was first cut, the body was taut, and the mark seemed more a reflection of pain than one of healing.  This cut tracked its way across the area of the body that ought to point to life especially for a young woman.  

The pain started just after midnight with a stabbing below Her belly button, shifting to a sharp sear just to the side of Her hip-bone.  Nausea heaved in Her chest and by morning the pain gripped Her entire abdomen, yet She insisted She could go to work.  

As Her grade three students poured into the class, She remained seated, the pain seeming to climb up the sides of Her torso.  Nine-year old Martin came over and placed his hand on Hers, waking Her to the surroundings. 

“Mrs. Henderson, you don’t look so good.  You should go back home.” 

As She walked toward the intercom at the front of the classroom, She doubled over from the pain.

From Portage General Hospital, She was taken to the Women’s Health Science Center in Winnipeg, where She was told She was to have emergency surgery to remove her fallopian tube.  She had no idea what that was.  Had never paid attention to the anatomy of Her own body, but She did understand that there was life growing in her.  The doctors called it a blastocyst, something She would later become intimately knowledgeable of.

She can’t recall the exact moment She started to want a family.  She simply expected that it would happen. First comes love. Then comes marriage.  

They would joke with friends and family that now they “are trying,” meaning they now charted Her body temperature, and watched for signs of ovulation, seeking the optimum moment.  Then lying in bed for at least an hour afterward with Her legs propped up against the wall to ensure fertilization, She would read about the stages of pregnancy and embryonic growth.  

The second ectopic was dissolved with Methotrexate, a cancer treatment derived from placental tissue. Imagine.

But when the third ectopic occurred, the doctors suggested they remove the second tube. This time using the newest in science – laparoscopy – which left just a small incision and no real choice for how to conceive.

The Latin cognate for desire is rooted in regret.  While the more modern French derivative is founded on a deep hunger, more like desperation and is usually related to romance.

She no longer accepted invitations to baby showers and friends and family stopped asking about their pursuit of pregnancy.  And the rhythms of romance moved into the monotony of expectation singed with fear. 

The invetro path took much longer – seven years and many road trips to Calgary.  The first trip involved them stopping along the way to receive estrogen injections in Regina. Estrogen is normally produced as an egg matures and is essential to trigger the luteinizing hormone for a nice ripe egg.  Her situation was not normal, and She produced 22 eggs.  Each one fertilized successfully, leaving them with the untenable decision of how many to keep.  

They kept them all.  And then had them suspended in a frozen state until they could receive each one and hope it would attach. 

Every spring break, they would plan for ‘a transfer’ of two or three zygotes, and each spring they would drive that road of desire toward becoming parents. Each spring anticipating what their life might look like by Christmas.

They thought they’d try something new for the last three.  Maybe this time, it would bring luck, so they did the transfer in June after school had ended. 

But the three-week blood test showed that these last three hadn’t attached. 

She wasn’t pregnant. 

All 22 eggs had been spent.

That path was no longer viable.

She didn’t cry on the drive home, but She could feel her heart beating in Her ears, could feel a knot in Her throat like She was going to throw up.  She pulsed out her breath in short pushes like She was hyper ventilating.  She was sweating.  She felt the most excruciating pain She had ever before experienced, and She couldn’t contain it.  She screamed.

As She walked through the door of their home in Heffley Creek, the phone was ringing.  Unconsciously She answered.  It was Sharon Linitski, their social worker who had helped them through the long application process to adopt a child.  “You have a baby …” was all She heard.  She wailed, and now, She allowed herself to cry.  

She was to receive a baby boy and the term was just nine days! 

 In her own way, she had given birth and the lines on her belly were evidence of it.  The scar, just a natural part of the process of healing.

Dian Henderson is a mother and now, her own mother’s caregiver, living in the Interior of British Columbia and teaching writing to ESL students at Thompson Rivers University.

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23 Nov

My Mother in Hindi

Taking Flight No Response

It’s our ritual, ours.
Bickering over her music,
we sit in her bed, eating small oranges
from a plate black with salt. Lazy words
leave our tired mouths. Her hand
sweeps hair from increasing worries.
Even as her bones grow fragile
she is the rain that braids
my windowpane on a bored Sunday.
I would bury a body for this woman.

It’s our ritual, ours.
I sniffle in her lap:
my unfinished book, or the ice cream
I shouldn’t have had. Knowing laughter
stretches our faces. “Don’t worry,” she says,
“Don’t worry, sweet sweet baby,
you’re going places.” When I dislodge
her phone from her grip
and take the glasses off her face
she mumbles angrily, but knows
it’s me. When she sleeps,
her dreams talk—
she frowns under the cloth mask
that covers her eyes.
I lie in the same bed
listening to the storm.

It’s our ritual. She holds a jewel
to her pierced lobe and says,
‘This looks better on me.’
I hug her from behind.
I let her raid my box of things.
Things distract us from the thunder.
She wipes my cheeks
with her warm hands.

It’s our ritual. Ours.   

Brinda Gulati has an MA in Writing from the University of Warwick, and enjoys knitting as much as she does a tall glass of iced coffee. You can follow her virtual life on Instagram – @brindagulati, or share her anxieties of living in a COVID world on Twitter – @theonlybrinda.

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23 Nov

The Lapping Lake

Toddlers to Teens No Response

My thoughts are not 
ocean waves,
decisive, strong,
determined.

They are the line 
where the lake meets sand
in dishwasher foam
and coffee cake crumbs,
shells wound with seaweed 
and dappled pebbles,
each rocking wave 
carrying hidden treasure

like my children place trinkets
in my palms and pockets 
all day long, quietly calling
in their going out and returning,

“Here we are, 
here we are.”

Jenna Brack is a writer and teacher living in Kansas City. She has an M.A. in English and enjoys good coffee, serious conversation, and not-too-serious fiction. Find her on Twitter @jennabrack or Instagram @jennabrackwriting.

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