Monthly Archive for October, 2012

Poems by Sidney Thompson


In ribbons the blinds
make of the courtyard

light, I press my lips
to your mother’s moon

belly and whisper,
“It’s me again.”

As if in answer for you,
my child, eyes-closed,

she says, “Hmmm,”
a sort of smiling om.

The catalog of my day
is my night’s prayer.

Oh, I’ve never prayed
this way, god no, but now

someone’s listening,
aren’t you? And from this

memory of comfort, you
will recognize my voice,

won’t you? You will say,
“Father,” a miracle, and I,

your child, will answer.


Your mother once snaked her legs with mine
so that, I swear, with each moon phase
they seemed multiplied, my cat-eyed snake

goddess with navel ring. Now the magic
is slighter, hidden in an egg as if in a hat,
how you pull and pull to round her belly

and back, stretch a piercing into a crater
because it’s moon’s nature to want more
moon, I understand, but to steal her legs—

uncanny. But if you could see her pull back
against you, the mounting effort to marry her body
to full-body Boppy—the squirm, the hump,

the whole canine scooch-and-scooch to land
you atop the pillowed pedestal, to reduce
your effect—you’d regret your tidal slosh,

I know, but you needn’t. And if you could
see me behind her, uncovered by the fuss,
flat as sky, a shell shard, a dragonfly ring melting

under dust by the bathroom sink—like Boppy
was once suspended in plastic and shelved
in a distant store, a fossil’s reminder that nothing

foregrounds like background and is abortable forever—
you’d remember to rest easily, too, and wait
your turn because that is what moons do.


Your mother, if she can sleep, must sleep like a door
that won’t stay open, wedged by pillows to keep her
propped on the hinge of her left side, to keep you left,
too, close to the heart, a metronome for sleep.

There’s no crowding or kinking of the old sewer line,
the Inferior Vena Cava, which recycles breathless blood
below the waist, up along the spine, past the placenta—
the scenic route— to the right atrium. The best flow

prevents hypertension, hemorrhoids, and swelling, too,
of ankles and the already spreading feet of the exterior she.
Ultrasound shows by absence you are not a boy—you are
a half-this, half-that girl in your stylish vernix, urinating

and drinking where you swim, our 26-week-old baby fish
fountain we call Emerson. Everything in the amniotic
compost tastes delectable. Sometimes I hang my arm
around you both, my hand wedged beneath her globe,

feeling for kicks and heartbeats like hooves. Is this
how gods, not goddesses, pass time, waiting for function,
a door to open—your mother to finish the bottled water
on the night stand so I can fetch another?


In our neighborhood, where Texas Instruments
put up that barbed wire to make calculators,

where rental houses have aluminum siding
in the back instead of brick, your mother’s spine

curves like a bough of ripened apples. She’ll try
anything to coax you out. At bedtime, I inserted

suppositories of evening primrose oil, retrieved
maxi-pads when she forgot. Now, it’s sex we take,

our daily dose, and I confess it’s weird
inducement—my hormones plus her orgasm.

The cervix is dilated 3 of 10 centimeters, as if
a microscopic artillery shell exploded through

the chapel ceiling—I can almost touch you.
Mornings, I teach and drive to school, but afternoons

when I return as student, your mother needs the Jeep,
so I ride the bus. It’s a double life, doctoral husband.

Wednesday night is Fiction Workshop night,
and January 18th, a Wednesday, is the semester’s first

meeting, the last day before your birth, when I get
the call that stands me up in the middle of class

to announce, It’s time, like I’m trying out the fiction
of movies. Outside, I race over shadows and lawn

and spotted light because my line has only one bus,
and missing it could mean missing everything,

but like the movies again, I find a bus parked
at the stop: not Eagle Point, not Mean Green,

but mine, Discovery Park, waiting as your mother
waits, when it’s never waited for me before.

I haven’t believed in miracles or God in ages,
not since the eighties, when I discovered in high school

the pleasure of annotating the Bible. That was before
I got old and fat, lost my hair, my dogs, and forgot

how to play the piano, the trumpet, before I knew
death and divorce were synonyms. On board,

it’s just me and the driver, just destination and delivery,
and silence, until the bus climbs.


Sidney Thompson is the author of the short story collection Sideshow. He received his MFA from the University of Arkansas and is a PhD candidate at the University of North Texas. His poetry has appeared in The Midwest Quarterly and Metrosphere, and is forthcoming in RHINO Poetry. This series of poems is dedicated to his wife, Sara, and daughter, Sydney Emerson.

An Interview with Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores: Birth, Death and Hospice

Author Alissa Hirshfeld-FloresIn “This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge” you bring together insights gleaned from your experiences with birth, death, and hospice. I will quote here from your bio, which proves to contain a poetic introduction to the selections we ran earlier at The Fertile Source: “Her book presents her reflections on what she learned from 12 years working at hospice, which corresponded with experiencing the intersection of the death of her mother, birth of her daughter, and own near-death experience post-partum. While the book speaks candidly about death, it is ultimately a celebration of life.” How and when did it occur to you to braid these strands together? Can you talk to us about the process of writing the book?

I started to journal intensively when my mother was beginning to decline in a more serious way, and I knew she was probably nearing her final months or weeks. Writing helped to contain and make sense of all of my grief feelings. At just about this time, I had also given notice that I would be leaving my bereavement manager position at hospice, after working there for a dozen years, to transition back to full-time clinical work (in a group psychotherapy practice). My daughter at that time was 5.

My mother ended up dying about a month after I left hospice. The timing of things allowed me to have a true bereavement period, as I was slowly building up a caseload and so had a few quieter months of working less than full-time, and thus more time to write as well. As I continued to journal, I realized that I wanted to explore and integrate my experience not only of losing my mother, but of all I’d learned through my years at hospice, as well as my transition into motherhood.

Because I’d gone back to work when my daughter was just 3 months old, I didn’t have adequate time to fully contemplate my traumatic birth experience (which almost killed me) and her birth. As I grieved my mother, it seemed the perfect opportunity to deeply reflect upon the experience of being mothered and becoming a mother, as well as the ephemeral and sacred nature of life.

My writing ultimately was very therapeutic on many levels and became a bit of an obsession! It poured out of me. As I began to share some of it with friends and family, they encouraged me to turn it into a book.

Two beautiful and powerful ideas you present that support the image of the bridge in your title have to do with ways we could better stand to support women in transition: post partum doulas and mentors to help fill in some of the void following the loss of one’s mother. Do you see these types of relationships fostered in our current society? Has it changed at all since you wrote the book? Do these concepts find expression in your professional life as a spiritual counselor? Are there specific pathways or structures you envision our society constructing (maybe these already exist?)?

Unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships fostered enough in our society. I wish our health care system would cover care such as that provided by post partum doulas—whom I think provide such a wonderful service—so that they could be available to most women. The period of adjusting to a new baby in the family is such a vulnerable one for families. I do think grief counselors and women peers in support group can fill in as mentors for women bereaved of mothers—if women have an opportunity or inclination to go for grief counseling (but unfortunately many don’t).

I also think it is a shame that many women are socialized not to ask for help for themselves, and therefore don’t look for the opportunities that do exist. I do feel that I get an opportunity to fill in these voids of support for some women, in my work capacity as a counselor or spiritual director. I have to remind so many women that I see that while it is admirable that they want to protect and care for their children, husbands, parent(s), etc., they have to be sure to put on their own oxygen mask before assisting those around them.

And can you talk about your title and how you landed there?

The title evolved over time. The working title was very bland: “Reflections of a Hospice Worker: How I Learned to Embrace Life.” An author relative of mine suggested that I flip the clauses, “How I Learned to Embrace Life: Reflections of a Hospice Worker.” That was better, but still lacked something. And the fact was, I no longer worked at hospice at my final stages of writing.

I have always loved the Hebrew song based on the quote by Chasidic rabbi Nachman of Breslav: “This whole world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear (but to have faith).” I was still thinking about a title, when I began to hum that Hebrew chant. I then replaced “Reflections of a Hospice Worker” with “This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge,” as in “How I Learned to Embrace Life: This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge.”

Finally, a friend who read a more final draft of the book suggested I drop “How I Learned to Embrace Life.” So you can see how many people helped birth the title! I like the final product: it is poetic and captures one of the book’s central themes, that there is a thin line between life and death and that life is tenuous and precious.

You spend some time in your book reflecting on your assumptions about your mother and how they shift not only as you prepare to become a mother, but as she nears death. What do you take forward from these shifts in perception regarding your own mother as you in turn mother your own daughter? Will you share your book with your daughter (if you haven’t already—I’m not sure how old she is)?

I think that when one becomes a mother, one naturally reflects on how one wants to parent the same as how we were mothered and how we want to do it differently. This process is heightened when one loses a mom, when one is sorting through the positive memories as well as the negative ones. I learned from my mother both how to parent and how not to parent. Both lessons ultimately are valuable.

My mother was very warm, loving and ultimately supportive, and she also had her areas of struggle. Since it is so automatic to do what was done to us, we really have to be conscious about the things we want to do differently—so that we don’t pass on any mistreatment that was done to us. My mother, for example, imposed many of her own ambitions onto me, although they weren’t necessarily a fit for me. I hope I don’t do the same to my daughter. I hope I am a better parent because of all the things I learned from my mother.

My daughter has seen the book and has scanned it to find her name (mentioned several times!) When I do readings, she wants me to read the parts about her!

Have you had any reaction from the hospice community regarding your book? (I could see it being used in the classroom, for example). Similarly, within your faith and your religious community? How did you choose the metaphors of faith you used in the book?

I am pleased to have received excellent feedback from both my colleagues in the hospice community and from my faith community–rabbis, spiritual directors, and religious educators. It was important to me to include the issue of how faith can help one through times of loss and crisis. I observe all the time how faith—no matter what “brand”—sustains my clients.

It is important that people have a way to make meaning during times of difficulty: this might be a religious, spiritual, or existential meaning. And for me personally, working close to death as well as experiencing the miracle of birth while brushing near death, all heightened my appreciation of the mystery of both life and death, intensified my sense of awe and strengthened in me a spiritual sensibility.

Any desire to share us with your work as a consultant for grief-related films (sounds fascinating)? Any specific scene you found powerful to work with or help shape?

I got to be a consultant for Pixar for the movie “Up.” It was a wonderful experience! I was very impressed by how much research went into making the grief experience of the old man in the movie so realistic. During a long afternoon interview with the makers of that film, they asked me detailed questions about how such a character would experience his grief and what might help him to resolve it. We talked both about the use of a memory book as well as how mentoring a child could help one navigate through grief and feel a renewed sense of meaning in life.

Who helped nurture your writer self? Any mentors you’d like to share with us?

I have loved writing since I was my daughter’s age, 9, and I hope she’ll get as much satisfaction from it as I have! I remember various English teachers encouraging me, particularly the editor of my high school literary magazine, for which I was an editor. More recently, two of my supervisors at Hospice in particular supported and encouraged my writing.

Can you tell us a little bit about the novel you are currently working on or any other writing projects?

I am working on a novel about a young woman, who’s just been suspended from her ivy league college, who crosses paths at a New Age intentional community with a 50-something year-old woman who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So it’s about two women, each facing times of crisis and transition, discovering what gives their lives meaning. Similar themes to this book, but with more room for creativity, and character development, and humor. Now, if I could only find the time to work on it . . . .

Any advice for writing mothers?

I would say to cherish and guard those private moments for writing! As moms, we need to replenish ourselves in order to be present and loving towards our children. The creative process, however we tap into it, can certainly help with that.

Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores is a licensed marriage and family therapy, certified spiritual director, and former bereavement department manager.  She currently practices in Santa Rosa and specializes in grief and loss, life transitions, and counseling on spiritual issues.  Her book (This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge, Infinity Publishing, 2011, available at Amazon) presents her reflections on what she learned from 12 years working at hospice, which corresponded with experiencing the intersection of the death of her mother, birth of her daughter, and own near-death experience post-partum.  While the book speaks candidly about death, it is ultimately a celebration of life.  Alissa has been a Hollywood consultant for grief-related films.  In her personal time, she enjoys laughing with her husband–a stand-up comedian–and keeping their daughter entertained.  She is currently working on a novel. Alissa also appears on Writer-Speak with host Mikala Kennan (a half-hour indepth interview).

Baby Alive

an essay by Dana Verdino

I got my first baby when I was nine years old. I named her Sara. I coddled her and I slept with her until my cousin threw her down the stairs and her head popped off. I was so mortified over my baby and its dangling head; I gave up on being a mother and buried Sara, now Baby Dead, next to our brook in the woods. It wasn’t until I met my husband and got married that I started to think about babies again. Babies that are really alive.

I dream that it comes out with a full head of brown hair and my husband calls everyone to tell them the news. I dream about dirty diapers and their rancid smells, the toys strewn about the house, and us around the kitchen table, a little life in a high chair slurping spaghetti. Then I wake up and go to work as a first grade teacher. I laugh with my children. I read them stories. I hold their hands. I wipe their noses.

Four months after our honeymoon I was pregnant.  I ran around the house waving a stick with two red lines. My husband and I, oblivious to the three-month rule, started talking about baby names and over the next few weeks, purchased miscellaneous baby books and told everyone about the baby-to-be. Big mistake. When we went in for my ultrasound, the doctor discovered “it” had stopped growing. He said it happens and there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. I cried for myself and for my husband and for a tiny bean in my uterus that wasn’t entirely alive.  I cried for what we wanted “it” to become—a real, live, tangible, viable, growing, knowing baby. I cried for lost plans and lost diapers and lost spaghetti on a high chair.

Over the next two years there would be three more. Three more stories that I’d never finish; three more toilet burials. Four altogether. A total of eight months worth of thinking and planning, of imagining our next Christmas card, of browsing through the racks at maternity stores and Baby Gap. And a total of thirteen months in between, these months full of arguing, crying, seeking therapy, charting temperatures, tracking ovulation, and taking Prozac just to get through another month and another mourning.

The truth is, I was embarrassed. Every baby that was built inside me was defective. Not quite a woman, I was a baby-eating monster. Don’t touch me or you might catch it. It was humiliating. I’d lie down on the table, the nurse would slide a big xray wand into me, and we’d look up at the screen at a splattered mass of cells while the wall behind her boasted a collage of healthy looking fetuses. The nurse would say something like “I knew this woman and yadda yadda and then she was fine and now she has three children.” Then I’d go back to work, walk into my boss’s office with my eyes astray, and ask her for more time off.

Now I’m pregnant again and I can’t think straight, only in a snafu of red. Continue reading ‘Baby Alive’

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