Monthly Archive for August, 2011

Breakfast

by Z.R. Davis

He would not cry today, he was going to be happy. The waitress, a moderately beautiful twenty-something, approached the table he shared with a briefcase and the morning paper. Her eyes were light blue, and her small mouth, free of lipstick, was opened slightly as if she was whispering something to herself, but had stopped midway. He wondered what she might have been saying: perhaps a song, or maybe a bit of poetry. No, not poetry; she was far too pretty to know any poetry. Only ugly women liked poetry. Maybe that was wrong. Did ugly women read poetry, or did it just seem that way? Did they just talk to themselves out of loneliness?

Pancakes today, two big fluffy ones both larger and thicker than the plate they rested on. The midpoint of the pancakes had been eaten out, and in the exposed portion was a small pool of sugar-free maple syrup. He was on a mission to lose weight this year, although he was not fat in any clinical sense of the word. His stomach was slightly engorged, and he only had three pairs of pants that fit him comfortably, but he was skinnier than many people, and in fact was considered scrawny by some. The guy his wife was currently sleeping with was rail-thin, though.

 He wasn’t sure what his wife saw in her rawboned lover, but if she was looking for a skinny guy, he could become that for her; she would love him again in six months. He would be nearly transparent. Thinking about that made him feel terrible, however, and he sat with his fork suspended in mid-bite, a line of syrup falling from the bit of speared pancake. He was already transparent to her.

Despite his inward feelings, the image he presented was that of a strong, able-bodied man who had entered into middle age with most of his hair free of gray and a look of good-natured intelligence and wisdom that shone in the corners of his eyes and in the lines of his cheeks. Today he was wearing his nice suit jacket with a long-sleeved white dress shirt underneath with no tie. He left the top button—the one that presses against the Adam’s apple whenever a man swallows—unbuttoned. Looking good was important because a man needed to project an image before he experienced what the image suggested. If he looked successful, he would be successful. Happiness was just a matter of showing the world how happy you were, and eventually the heart and mind would cease their stubbornness and become happy.

“Can I get you anything else?” the waitress asked, and when she closed her mouth, her face set in an expression of somewhat hurried benevolence, he could see small lines at the corners of her mouth that made her lips look curiously like parentheses. He was shocked he hadn’t noticed when he first ordered.

“No, thank you. I’m fine at the moment.”

The waitress walked away, and he stared at the hole he had made in his pancakes and thought of the waitress’s mouth. Those oddly shaped lips, nearly curlicued in construction, would not leave his mind. He was surprised to discover he did not want the thought of her mouth to leave his mind. He wanted to call her back and ask what the specials were so he could stare at her lips as they bounced over every word. He wanted her to read the menu to him, and when she was done, he would ask questions about the food.

Is the bacon from a local farm? Is the gravy homemade? Do the eggs come from actual chickens, or does the restaurant use that liquid egg substitute I sometimes see in the supermarket at the end of the egg cooler, the sight of which always brings a queer sadness upon me. It’s derided by children as their mothers push carts loaded with offspring and cereal, their eyes skyward so they can pretend the obscenely loud noise does not come from their children. They had no children—oh no—they were still young and had so much going for them. They never got married at 17. This goes on until one of the children grabs its mother’s arm and cries “Mommy, look! That eggy stuff is gross!” but it’s not gross, it’s just different. You can never get kids to understand that because it’s one of so many things you cannot explain to kids. Reflecting on it now, I think it was probably a good thing our baby died because I’m not sure I would have had the patience to explain things like egg substitutes to a child. It would have been nice, though, to have a little version of me, dressed for success, standing next to me and calling me daddy. I could explain other things to him, like why boys are different from girls and why mommy works and daddy stays home. That would be nice. I don’t know why she chose (because I sure didn’t) to get rid of the person growing inside of her, and it was you, my son—I don’t know why she didn’t want to keep you. She said she just wasn’t ready for a family, but it was really because she had met that skinny guy, and wherever women go to find insubstantial-looking guys like that, I’ll never know. I want to hear the waitress read the menu and watch her strange, pretty mouth move easily over the words she is so accustomed to saying every day, and maybe if I’m lucky I can tell her about my wife and how I’m going to get her back. She might even be proud of helping me get her back by bringing me the sugar-free syrup with the pancakes. She’ll say she’s glad to help and that she knows a guy who can take care of that skinny punk, no problem, and I’ll say no thanks—not necessary—because I’m lifting weights. One day soon, I’ll walk to the house from the restaurant and open the door and mount the steps and not listen to the skinny guy’s heavy breathing or my wife’s moans. I will stay focused and alert because she wants me to, and she will be impressed by my focus when I go into the bedroom. I will lift up the skinny guy as he is on top of you and carry him down the steps and out the front door and throw him down on the curb like the worthless trash he is, and I’ll go back in and wash my hands and go upstairs. You’ll be smiling brightly and will tell me you never loved anyone but me and that you’re sorry for playing around with trash. You’ll be ready for a real man, and I’ll make love to you like the skinny guy never could, and your moans will be louder because I am a man and not walking trash. You will want to have a baby—a son we’ll name Jack, just like he would have been named if we had kept him the first time—and we will grow old together in each other’s arms as Jack turns into a fine man just like his daddy.

A man walking by bumped into the diner’s arm just as he was about to take the bite that had been suspended for so long. A bit of sugar-free syrup fell from the fork and landed on the diner’s shirt. There was no “excuse me” offered, and he doubted there would be one in the future, the sort of rudeness that is even more insulting because the person doesn’t even acknowledge that he’s done something rude. If he had maybe spit on the diner’s face, it could have been forgiven—at least it would have been honest. The diner could not understand why some people felt the need to act as if kindness and basic decency were foreign concepts. Just like the scrawny man. Just like his wife. She never once thought to bring up the subject of her infidelity. She kept trying to hide it, and that was unforgivable. There are certain things you should be honest about no matter what, and anyone who wasn’t deserved what they got.

The diner felt something within himself shift, and then break. He thought how awful people were because they insisted upon their rudeness but lacked the decency to be straight about it. He was hedged in all sides by the callous and uncaring. There was no escape.

He was too hot, the room was too hot, and he needed to cool off. Feeling like he was aflame from within, he rose from the booth and started swiftly toward the door. He realized as he stood in the doorway that he had left his briefcase at the table. A family of three trying to leave stood behind him. Trying to decide whether or not what was in the briefcase was necessary to go back for, he turned around and began to bite his nails and spit them out absentmindedly, not noticing the ragged, brutally shorn ends of his nails were landing in the hair of the woman in front of him.

“Oh, excuse me,” she said, “you just spat on me.”

Realizing this was his chance to be courageous, the husband stepped forward and placed his index finger mere inches from the face of the diner—this man who had offended his wife, and by proxy, him as well.

“Nobody spits on my wife, you get me?” The husband, feeling his statement to be insufficiently tough, added, “You don’t even spit near my wife, asshole.” Getting bolder, he said, “Maybe you and I should go outside and talk about your manners. I’ve got my family here, and they don’t need to be exposed to that kind of rudeness. What makes you so special you can spit on people, huh?”

At this, the husband spit a viscid glob of saliva, yellowish from the orange juice he recently finished, onto the diner. Although he was aiming for his face, the glob, perhaps too heavy or not expelled with enough force (just in case the diner would happen to take offense) landed on the collar of the diner’s nice white dress shirt.

The husband stepped back and raised his hands to chest level in anticipation of the coming fight, but the diner walked past him to the table where he left the briefcase. The husband, considering himself to be the victor in the exchange, marshaled his family through the exit and toward their car; the only physical contact between himself and the diner was the soft brush of fabric as the diner, in his finest suit—the one he wanted to be buried in—walked past, the shoulder of his jacket touching lightly the husband’s pullover sweater.

Zach Davis is a writer living and working in West Virginia. His work has appeared in print (Sans Merci and Shepherdstown Chronicle) and online (Martinsburg Journal). He has been writing since a first grade assignment to write a three page narrative; the teacher hated the story, but his classmates loved it.

An Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, & Mother Writer Retreats

Brittney Corrigan; Photo by Serena Davidson

Guilt Poem: Unplanned” opens with, “You didn’t want another child,” and continues to address the leap of faith mothers make each time they get pregnant—the attendant questions of sustainability: will I now also be able to nurture this new life, in addition to the one I am already nursing, raising. Can you talk to us about this dilemma, as well as the process of writing this poem?

When my sister had her first child, she described the experience of loving that child as “growing a second heart”. I think many mothers wonder, when they get pregnant for a subsequent time, how they will possibly be able to love the new child as much, or as well, as the first. For me, the fear was twofold, as my first child is on the autism spectrum. I was scared of the possibility of having another special needs child, when I was so overwhelmed by caring for the first. And I wondered, darkly, if I had a typical child, would I somehow love my first, challenging child less?

For me, these dark but nonetheless real emotions and fears are the basis for my series of parenting guilt poems. I wanted to address not the commonly discussed guilts of not wanting to play Legos for hours or feeling guilty about taking time for oneself, but rather the deeper issues of guilt that I think many parents have but are afraid or ashamed to voice. These poems are meant to open the discussion of these darker feelings of guilt, to work through them, and to come out hopeful on the other side. I have found that, even when I feel like I’m alone with these feelings, once each guilt poem is offered up to readers, I am suddenly surrounded by scores of parents saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too!”

When I read the line “this sibilant galaxy of two” (also from “Guilt Poem”) I knew we had to run your poetry—what a lovely stanza and line in particular. Can you talk about arriving at the star/constellation metaphor? Other metaphors since then you have landed on as crystallizing images regarding pregnancy and motherhood?

I tend to “gravitate” towards celestial metaphors in my work, whether the poems are about motherhood or other subject matter. I’m comfortable with the imagery of stars and constellations, and with the natural world, in general. In this particular poem, I enjoyed “breaking the rules” of not mixing metaphors by combining celestial and oceanic/tidal imagery. I feel that both metaphors capture the experience of motherhood – the regular rhythm of routines, the ebb and flow of emotions, and the concurrent fear and wonder of raising children. In my other poems about pregnancy and motherhood, I use imagery of the natural world throughout.

Here’s a question we never fail to enjoy asking at The Fertile Source: what impact has motherhood had on your writing life?

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately decided that I would write one poem each week, from 4 to 40, exploring the experience of pregnancy. I wrote weeks 4 and 5, and then the exhaustion hit. I did very little writing for the rest of my pregnancy and in the first couple years of my son’s life. It was very difficult for me to make the space in my life – both literally and emotionally – to write.

When my son received his autism diagnosis, I began to write again about my experience as his mother. Poetry then became a way for me to work through the complicated issues involved in raising and loving a special needs child.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I was lucky enough to be awarded a week long residency at Soapstone, a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast. I attended while in my second trimester, and with that renewed energy and the time away from my then 3-year old son, I worked on the autism poems as well as returning enthusiastically to the project of the week-by-week pregnancy poems.

As my children, now nearing four and eight, have grown older, I have found more and more time to return to my writing. I now greatly value any spare moment and have learned to write on demand when I have that time and to fit short writing periods into a busy schedule, since I don’t often have extended periods of time to write.

You mentioned attending the writing retreat, Soapstone. Can you tell us a bit about that retreat (we understand it is no longer running). Any reflections on that experience and words of advice to other mother writers considering escaping to writing retreats while raising children? Any other retreat venues you know of that are “mother friendly” (or what could you see retreats offering to mother writers in the future)?

Soapstone is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon that supports women writers. The organization is no longer offering residencies, but I can tell you that the time I had at the retreat was an absolute gift. I was only in residence for a week during each of my three stays, but to a mother of small children, that seemed like an eternity of time. Having a space to write in a gorgeous natural setting, removed from the routines of the everyday, was invaluable.

Many of the other writing retreats and residency programs that I know about unfortunately do not offer stays of less than two weeks; in fact most are between 1-3 months. As any mother of small children knows, leaving them for even a few days can be a hardship on the family, and nearly impossible for a single mother. I would like to see more residency programs become more “mother friendly” by offering one-week stays. Eventually, I would like to apply for a residency at Hedgebrook, another retreat for women writers, but that won’t be possible until my children are much older, since the minimum stay is two weeks.

I also think it would be wonderful if local writing organizations could offer space in their own offices for “day retreats” – space that could be rented or even offered for free to mothers who are writers to come and write for a day or a few days at a time. I know that for me, it would still be valuable to be able to write for eight dedicated hours and then return to my family in the evening.

Any poetry or writings you could recommend to our readers that you consider pivotal or influential along your own writing trajectory?

The poets I love best are Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Maxine Scates. In terms of poetry on the subject of motherhood, I could recommend the writing of Sharon Olds (very raw and honest), Jill Bialosky, and Sharon Kraus.

Any desire to talk about your own editorial role at Hyperlexia? Your most challenging moments/experiences? Your most rewarding?

While knowing or loving an individual with autism is becoming more and more common, it has been my experience that it’s hard to find literary-caliber poetry on the subject. It has been wonderful to be the poetry editor for a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the best creative writing out there on the subject of autism. I have seen some truly remarkable poetry come across my desk. If your readers are interested in excellent poems about the experience of raising a child with autism, I highly recommend the work of Barbara Crooker and Rebecca Foust, among the many other talented writers published in our journal (Hyperlexia).

What are you currently working on?

As mentioned previously, my main project these days is the series of parenting guilt poems. I am also working on a series of poems about raising a child on the autism spectrum. I have completed the series of pregnancy poems, and I would eventually like to see them published in the form of a pregnancy journal for literary-minded women. I also have a handful of completed children’s picture book manuscripts that are looking for publishers. Finally, I’m working on editing my first full-length collection of poetry, which will be released in the coming year.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

Brittney Corrigan: Three Poems

Guilt Poem: Unplanned

You didn’t want another child.
How you wept, how you weighed,
in those first undertow hours,
what you never before imagined.
You looked up the addresses
of clinics, your hand wavering
between belly and phone.
How such a faint, unformed thing
could ambush you so. Utterly
ensnare you. Knock you
sputtering into the deep.

You were already sinking.
Your boy—your difficult, discordant
child—took all you could gather
of yourself just to make it
from one end of the day to the other.
Where was there room in these riddled,
sapped hours for anything, anyone
else? Where was there room
in your heart, already compressing
with the weight of the descent? And, too,
the fear that blackened you when it rose,
would crush you if you spoke it:
what if this child was fractious as the first?

Everything you’d done up to now
was mustered from love.
You learned to assemble when
he crumbled. Shifted your orbit
to accommodate each essential,
rigid routine. You re-centered
your world to plunge into his.
Accepted the peculiar, unruly shimmer
of his being even as you wished
darkly for an easier child.

So you could not summon wonderment
or joy, feared this new child, insistent
and blazing, would sense how you felt
in the long, anxious months.
And what should you do with this
even more terrible thought that a second,
less arduous child might tamp
your love for the first? You could feel
yourself fragmenting, space debris
left circling in the black.

But with each tide your dark thoughts
were coaxed back to the depths.
As she grew and fluttered and spun,
so you grew to yearn for her coming,
urgent want flooding your bones.
It flattens you to think about now,
how she might not have been. She emerged
smiling, open-eyed and bright and necessary.

It is as if some otherworldly visitor,
sent with a message, decided to stay.
Something luminescent about her,
a glowing specimen feathering the deep.
How everything alters: your axis,
the revolving, the dizzy spin. How you
understand now the need for constellations,
the pull to make connections between stars.
They will keep each other, these satellites,
this sibilant galaxy of two.

Now the universe has two centers.
Or something like the balance of water
and air. Your world is no less difficult
for the changing. Still you dip and tread,
splay ragged at the leaving of the day.
But now you are a two-mooned
planet, spinning as they chase you
through expanding sky. Sometimes
they are too brilliant to look upon.
Sometimes they are reflected in your eyes.

16 Weeks

Waiting for the quickening, those little
knocks and bumps, a new rendering

of Morse code, our own body
language. You’re learning to control

those opalescent limbs. Little
dragonfly, my hummingbird, you hover

at my center, looking for the place
to wingbeat your first hello.

38 weeks

You are gaining an ounce a day
now, little person, growing creases

in your skin like fine folds
of cloth. My belly tightens around

you in preparation for your birth,
making me stand still, hold my hands

over your upturned limbs. Even now,
when I can’t wait to meet you, my whole

body holds you in, holds you tightly,
is reluctant to let you go.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

Read our Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, and Mother Writer Retreats.

The Truth Behind The Secret “Infertility”: A Personal Diary Of My Journey To Motherhood

Nonfiction by Fran Meadows

 

1. I finally convinced myself that my husband and I had to see a specialist.  Scary, but the reality these days is infertility is the new cancer.  It’s not openly spoken about but it’s reality for some.  Infertility back in the 80’s was like a sin, but now in the new millennium it’s like a secret sin, accepted a little more but still not talked about.  It’s as if you have a profanity written on your forehead, walking around, and everybody stares. 

2. I would put the sample in a sterile cup, label it and put it in a brown lunch bag.  I would drive to the doctor’s with it in between my legs to keep it warm.  I would be freaked out on those mornings, trying to get it on, get ready, get the sample, clean up, get dressed and go!  I would pray not to hit traffic or get pulled over with a warm sperm sample in between my legs. “Sorry, officer, I was speeding to get this sperm sample to the doctor’s office to get it injected into my vagina today in the hopes of becoming pregnant!” 

3. During three failed cycles [of infertility treatment], we both tried to be positive, but it was hard.  I was becoming obsessed with wanting to get pregnant.  After each cycle, I would even think I was pregnant by saying, “Hmmm…I think I feel sick or fat or something” to make me believe I was going to be pregnant this month.

4. I never imagined how many things could cause infertility and became more and more frustrated. After having three failed IUI (intrauterine insemination) cycles, the doctors were telling us that the cause of our infertility was unknown.  There were some factors that could be contributing to infertility, like my husband had low sperm levels; I had cervical polyps that might be blocking the flow of the sperm, even though the polyps were removed and all tests showed my tubes were clear.  They also found out that I had a thyroid condition that needed to be maintained.   I had no idea of this until I started going for treatments.  Apparently these things had something to do with getting pregnant, too.  I began taking Synthroid for my hypothyroid condition…and we now moved on to the next step in medication.

5. Prior to beginning my IVF cycle, I had to participate in an injection class to teach me how to give injections. I felt like I was in a junkie class instead of a class to assist in making a baby.  The nurses helped me understand how to draw up the medicines, mix them if necessary, and inject.  We injected needles on dummy skin like props. 

6. We kept going strong and never quit.  I was quite shocked that my husband worked together with me on this.  I thought for sure he would have said, “Forget it, this is not working,” and give up.  Sometimes I wanted to give up but felt that we got this far with failed cycles…there had to be one good cycle coming.  We would never know if we quit now. 

7. The pregnancy test was just a simple blood test, nothing more.  I went in very positive.  I felt good about the day.  I gave my blood and they wished me good luck.  The nurse called me that day.  I didn’t want to answer my cell phone since I was at work, so I let the message go to voicemail.  I listened to the voicemail by myself on my way home from work.  You could tell by the voice what the outcome was.  Not pregnant!  I remember pulling over, crying hysterically, and then composing myself to go home and tell my husband. During this time of uncertainty for us, many people became pregnant, including my dog….  Some people put absolutely no effort into trying, just spread their legs and they’re pregnant…served on a silver platter.  Good for them, sucks for me!  I wished that silver platter would be there for me.  Every time a pregnancy announcement was made I would break down inside.  I became numb to the announcements.  It’s not that I wasn’t happy for the person; it was that it just made my situation more painful.  

8. “When are you having a baby?”  I would smile, grit my teeth and mumble to myself.  I just wanted them to stop asking and mind their own business.  Didn’t they get it?  Then, “When the time is right,” would come out of my mouth with a giggle. What if I said, “We are having some problems. What business is it of yours?” It probably would have worked, but I went with the quick answer, and I knew that answer would be rude.  I got through many of those parties and then went home and cried. 

Fran Meadows has written a book about her journey with infertility. She lives in Queens, New York. You can visit her website to find out more about her story and her book.




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