Archive for the 'fertility' Category

Alexandria Peary — Three Poems

 

(Fertility)
            After Follain

Flecked with darkness
a piece of fruit
not quite a peach
tumbles over
the quiet part of the town
like a yellow hem
a list goes up
the side of a room
it wakens a tiny woman
with spring-green eyes
and four flowers
on her pillow,
two tropical
two from local fields.
A small black
and white window rolls
around the re
volving fruit,
tiny news printed
on it like a receipt
and a photo
of the woman at the end
of a gangway
holding a lake
by its handle,
holding her family
with the lake.

 

Oh, Massachusetts

I pick up the border
of Massachusetts—and drop it
I twang, twang, twang it,
the wavy line, the magnetic line
the ins and outs of it
that make a profile,
inlets and vestibules,
estuaries and the entrance
to a McDonald’s.
After a few seconds,
the cove and a bar code
of poplar trees stop moving.
I pick up the border
of Massachusetts—and drop it
I thrum, thrum, thrum it,
the lyric mile,
poetic lines like peninsulas, jetties, long reaches, sand bars in octometer, calcified prose
with revolving towns,
bead cities
shiny with information
& after miles of generalities
the door knob to the women’s restroom in a Starbucks,
the wicker mail box in the lobby
15 Arlington, Apartment 27.
I pick up Route 3, a junction,
and Walnut Path and drop them drop them,
and the end of the line
ekes out fife music,
murmur of the militia,
construction sounds of the new museum
wing, then falls silent.
While the heron on one leg in the bay
like a swizzler stick
like a lawn flamingo in Leominster
watches, the border slams
the ground one more time,
making the granite floor
in the baby’s room rattle,
I could break the prose across my knee
and make a 3-lined shelf
for the state bird, flower, tree,
the Mayflower, I-Max, and the brick factories,
but I strum, I strum,
strum, strum it,
and a yellow river
dribbles down my chest
—a passing lane
of crèche paper, party streamer
from the jade cave:
I am only a mile from my heart.

 

Rattle

Here comes the rattling part of the poem.
Pom-pom poem poem, silver balls
Silver balls along a line that’s being transported

Poem-poms on a dusty royal canopy bed
that’s being moved to another epoch in the building,
to a dove-colored room with egg-shell blue chairs.

Here comes the rattling part of a sentence,
and the fringe on a landscape, border around rhythmic rooms,
people in the hem. Grasp the ornate handle,

the great swish, slash lines of movement.
Tree tones, river tones, silver mountain tone,
Cedar waxwing, grosbeak, sea gull,

the curator’s cell phone has dropped onto the ancient bedspread.
Subject, verb, backslash, the underlined places in the room.
Here comes the rattling part of the sentence,

the underlined second half knocking into each other
like people in italics on a flat bed truck,
past crushed velvet crops, sunflowers.

Here comes the rattle of a sentence.
Two paper plates stapled together, put molars or dried corn inside
& hold up with an arts & crafts popsicle stick.

To make a Happy Face, drop in the beads of two thoughts,
swish it around, tilt head like shaking out water,
let them chase each other down tunnels

and chambers, poem-poems on the way to a labyrinth,
past the emergency room and the laundry room.
Tears stream down the sunflower. Saying goodbye to

stop signs it passes on a rattling truck.

 

Alexandria Peary is the author of Fall Foliage Called Bathers & Dancers and Lid to the Shadow and co-author of Creative Writing Studies: A Guide to Its Pedagogies (forthcoming). Her poems have recently appeared in The Denver Quarterly, New American Writing, and The Gettysburg Review. She is an associate professor in the English Department at Salem State University and runs a Mindful Writing Blog: http://alexandriapeary.blogspot.com.

4 Poems by Laura Thompson

Outgrown

The pet store owner hates me.
The bags of skittering crickets
I buy can’t make up for the sales
he’s lost. Releasing swarms of doubt
among his customers, I tell them
how big those babies behind glass will get.
The sulcata tortoise that fits
in your child’s mouth will be 200 pounds.
The frog sitting on your thumb eats fruit flies
now, rats later. In a year, that iguana will need
his own room. Caiman is just another
word for Crocodile. Is it animal welfare
that makes me speak up, or my own
fear of a life that will outgrow
the space I leave for it? When my eight-months
pregnant friend says how much she wants
this baby out, I don’t tell her
about my embryo, just another word
for a baby so small I didn’t know I’d brought
it home, how my deformed
uterus ran out of room at eight weeks,
and the tissue meant to cushion crushed.

My Boyfriend’s Miscarriage

On a Harley Davidson notepad, I draw
a normal uterus: pear-shaped, adorned on either side

with ovaries, and then mine, upside down, toppled
by a mass of eggs on one side, nothing

on the other, fallopian tubes
a gnarled ball of yarn.

The perspective father of my children
still isn’t convinced: Wouldn’t a child

 from your own body mean
more? Wouldn’t that be worth

the risk? I find him sobbing, face down
on our mattress, clutching

a Christmas photo—his niece’s bald head
covered by a Santa hat, smiling despite

chemo and swollen cheeks—he flinches
when I brush against his hip where a drill

pierced his femur, drawing rich red marrow
from the hollows of his pelvis to patch holes

in a child’s blood, the only relative whose genes
matched. Nine months later, the cells he donated

have died inside her. I was wrong
he says. That’s the last part of us
I want to lose.

“Inappropriate” Lactation After a Miscarriage

To not “take possession of.”
To not “set apart for a particular use.”
Not “fitting, suitable, apt.”
Not milk, but milky,
meant for a baby never
truly possessed.
Not white, but bluish gray,
insinuating itself into a bra’s
lace when someone else’s baby cries.

Set apart but not useful,
twin tumors the heart beats against–
ignore the pressure, refuse to release it,
and it will go away.
“Express” it and it will never
stop. Soothe with frozen
cabbage leaves, brittle green reminders
that babies are not found
where they were thought to be.
The only cure: to become
fertile again. What is natural
can also be wrong.

Heat

Inside a freshly laid egg, a gecko
begins female, but temperature
changes everything. Incubators
set at 75 guard oviducts, but
crank to 80 and androgen pools
in hemipenal pores. A simple formula, unless
a thermostat malfunctions and temps
reach 90, for an egg just shy of omelet
hatches “hot female.” Sterile, chunky,
aggressive, they savage males who try
to mount them, dance a slithering samba
when “normal” females approach.

Off her meds because of me, my mother
hid in closets and crawl spaces
in June, heat stroke less threatening
than life. Were those prenatal summer
months the reason the dress shop calls
my waist a “size other?” Did it make
me throw a desk at the teacher who said
I’d never find a husband peering
through a microscope? Is that
why I sizzle in a woman’s
arms like butter
beneath scrambled egg?

Laura Thompson earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of the Fine Arts and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in English and Comparative Literature, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Tributary, The Rectangle, and Tiger’s Eye. She is also a part-time English and Creative Writing instructor and serves on the editorial staff at the Cincinnati Review.

Read our interview with Laura Thompson conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Male Miscarriage, Reptilian vs. Human Mating Rituals and Inappropriate Lactation.

The Empty Cradle

Photo by Kathy Leonard

The Empty Cradle

Kathy  Leonard says, “When I photograph, I do not consciously search out particular types of images, but I find that there is a surprising similarity in many of my photographs.  There is dark and light, great contrast, or “chiaroscuro” as the Italians call it.  I find this juxtaposition of light and shadow very appealing in black and white photography, especially when it serves to highlight the angles or curves of some object. These are the elements that drew me to photograph the wooden cradle. The natural light from the window cast dramatic shadows on the hand-carved cradle and I knew that the resulting image would be stark, simple, and beautiful.”

Kathy Leonard is a professor at Iowa State University.  She studied photography at the University of California, Davis, and at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she received a degree in Fine Arts with specialty in photography. Her photographs have been published in numerous magazines, websites, online journals, and in textbooks and have been exhibited in various venues in California, Nevada, and Iowa.

Birds and Egs

Fiction by Don Kunz

Wendy awoke in the master bedroom of the restored Victorian on Prospect Street.  She lay listening to the lovebirds shredding newspaper in their cage next to the bay window and her husband making breakfast in their downstairs kitchen.  She stared at the ceiling.  The new light of an August morning had streamed through the stained glass to cover the cracked plaster with sky-blue and blood-red streaks resembling a child’s finger painting.  She thought of a shiny white egg the size of a marble.  She thought of nesting.  At almost five months she was definitely showing.  Beneath her flannel nightgown Wendy’s stomach was no longer flat and hard from years of abdominal crunches and five-mile runs along Blackstone Boulevard on the east side of Providence.  She heard Bill breaking eggs into a ceramic bowl, whisking them with a fork, pouring them spattering into the cast iron skillet.  The skillet had belonged to Wendy’s mother who had died of colon cancer on Valentine’s Day.  She remembered her mother’s distended belly rising beneath the sheet of her hospital deathbed and imagined she would look like that herself before she delivered in December.  Wendy found it disturbing that on the surface life and death should look so much alike.  She wished her mother had lived long enough to share the mysteries of pregnancy and childbirth with her, especially because this would be a Christmas baby, a miracle.  Then, Wendy smelled freshly brewed coffee and felt the familiar first wave of morning sickness.

Bill dropped four slices of whole wheat into the toaster then turned back to stir their eggs in the skillet.  He sang the chorus of a top-forty tune he remembered from his younger years, “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on.”  After a miscarriage during the second month of Wendy’s first pregnancy, this had become their theme song.  Bill could almost picture this second fetus adrift in amniotic fluid trying to find a grip on the uterine wall with its newly formed hands.  If Sloopy could just hang on, then, what?  Bill would be a father for the first time at age sixty-one.  At a time when his colleagues would be looking forward to retirement, Bill would be heating formula and planning his schedule around day care.  He was still not certain how to feel about that.  But he was trying to stay positive.  From the beginning of fertility treatments he had told himself that becoming a father would make him young again.  Bill wanted to believe that at seventy-five he would have a dark tan, ropy muscles, and lungs like a Sherpa.  He tried to imagine playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway, making a fade away jump shot against his taller teenage son while his retired colleagues across town shuffled about in walkers, dithering over long-term care policies and bingo schedules in nursing homes.  Bill turned into the hallway, carrying two full plates toward the dining room.  He paused at the foot of the stairs.  “Breakfast,” he hollered.  “Eggs and toast.  Breakfast for Wendy and Sloopy.”  No answer.  From the bathroom at the top of the stairs came the sound of his wife retching.  Bill walked slowly into the dining room and set the plates on the table.

Wendy rested her forehead on the forward edge of the white porcelain toilet bowl, reached up and flushed.  “Coming,” she hollered.  “I’m coming, for Christ’s sake!”  She heaved herself up and reached for the Aquafresh on the pedestal sink.  The bristles on her toothbrush were splayed out like the legs of an old dog trying to stay upright.  Her voice tumbled down the stairs toward Bill.  “I’m not too sure about Sloopy.  I may have barfed him up.  I couldn’t bear to look.”

Christmas baby or not she thought as she brushed her teeth, no one could call her the Virgin Wendy anymore; that’s for sure.  At work, Joe Early had christened her with that nickname when they were dating, because she was holding out on him.  She glanced into the speckled mirror over the sink.  She was foaming at the mouth.  Rabid bitch she thought.  She remembered snapping and growling at poor Joe, formerly her would-be lover, now barely a colleague.  Joe Early, one of four senior partners at Robinson, Bender, Early & Touché, Attorneys at Law had spent four months after his third divorce trying to get into her pants.  Back then she was in her fifth year at the firm and had wondered if giving into sexual intimacy would be a quid pro quo for making partner in the firm.  So Wendy, who hadn’t been a virgin since she was seventeen, decided to keep their relationship platonic as a test.  A week after the vote which made her a partner and head of the firm’s workman’s compensation division, Wendy dumped Joe when he tried to grope her in the small kitchen off the second-floor conference room at the end of the hall.  Mooning about with unrequited love was unprofessional but, nevertheless, flattering; feeling her up at work was not.

Wendy took a gulp of tap water, grimaced at the taste of chlorine, thought again about buying a filter for the tap, and rinsed her mouth but did not swallow.  She recalled she had not been able to read anything but embarrassment in Joe’s face, like when he had received a Victoria’s Secret Catalog at work.  She was hoping for disappointment.  She would have preferred epic heart break.  But Joe just blushed briefly.  Then he reached past her, poured himself a coffee (no sugar) and turned away.  She had been tempted to ask if he knew anything about sexual harassment statutes but decided not to rub it in.  Three weeks later Wendy had tried to imagine what Joe would think about her having intercourse with an economist she had met through a dating service.  At first it had amazed her, but later Wendy figured she was overdue.  At age thirty-seven having committed all her energy to marathon training and a seventy-hour workweek at the law firm, she decided it was time to stop acting like a cloistered nun.  What could she have told Joe if he had asked why him and not me, especially when Bill was almost twenty years older than either of them?  Bill just smelled right?  Wendy believed in the science of pheromones.  Now she was pregnant at forty, trying to believe in miracles.

Bill ascended the stairs wearing a red T-shirt, khaki slacks, and a denim apron that read, “If you laid all the economists end to end, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.”  He shoved both hands into his front pockets beneath the apron and stared at Wendy in the bathroom mirror, admiring her brown eyes, perfectly oval face, and short auburn curls.  Bill watched Wendy wipe her mouth with the green guest towel.  “You were just kidding about Sloopy, right?  Because I’ve got his breakfast ready.  He needs to eat to hang on.”

Wendy brushed her fingertips across the dark circles beneath her eyes as if to erase them.  She wondered when she would see the glow that younger women seemed to get when they were pregnant.  Since marrying Bill three years earlier, she had wondered if starting a family this late was an unrealistic prospect.  Now she tried to push doubt aside.  She told herself it was like hitting the wall at mile eighteen in a marathon when the body had used up all its glycogen; if she kept pushing, she could do it.  And so could her husband she thought; he was a tough, old bird who looked and acted younger than his years.   Bill’s reflection appeared beside hers in the mirror, a square chiseled face with scar tissue around the eyes.  Wendy spoke to his image.  “I’ve got to believe this one’s got a grip.  This baby’s a keeper.”

Bill bowed his head, rested his chin lightly on Wendy’s shoulder, and wrapped his arms around her.  He wanted to hold on more tightly but feared he might break something.  “It had better be.  I don’t think there are many more where he came from.”

Wendy rotated inside the circle of Bill’s arms and gave him a peck on the cheek.  “Thanks for fixing breakfast.”  She wrinkled her nose.  “Oh, God.  I think I’m going to be sick again.”  She pushed Bill away, put both hands on her knees, and leaned over the toilet.  Her hands turned into fists as if she could fight off the nausea.  “Morning sickness is supposed to go away by the third month.  It’s too late for this.”

“It’s probably the damned eggs,” Bill said.  I should have fixed oatmeal.”

Wendy straightened up.  “Yeah, probably just the eggs.  But I ought to be able to keep something as simple as an egg down.  Eggs are supposed to be good for you.”

“Why don’t you save a step, leave the toilet seat up just in case?”

“Don’t be a damned pessimist!” she snapped.   “I refuse to be sick any more.  I’m going to take a seat at the table, and I’m going to finish everything you put on my plate.”

Wendy waited for Bill to get out of her way.  But he reached out and placed both hands on her belly.  His knuckles were heavy, thick, and scarred.  Sloopy wasn’t kicking.  Wendy reached up to brush toast crumbs from Bill’s lips.

 

That evening Wendy and Bill lay in bed with their heads propped up on pillows and watched a rerun of “The Best of Johnny Carson.”  Wendy was nibbling on soda crackers to settle her stomach.  Beneath the sheet Bill’s feet framed the screen on the twenty-one inch Sony at the foot of the bed.  When he forced his toes together, Johnny disappeared; when he let them flop to the side, Johnny reappeared.  Now Johnny was wearing a black velvet turban and holding an envelope to his forehead; he was playing the Great Carnac, solver of riddles.  The routine reminded Bill of “Jeopardy,” but every answer was a joke.  Johnny closed his eyes, furrowed his brow, and let the suspense build.  “Sis boom bah,” he proclaimed.  Then Johnny tore the end from the envelope and blew into it.  The envelope bellied out, Johnny extracted a piece of paper, unfolded it and read:  “What is the sound of a sheep exploding?”

Seated on the sofa to Johnny’s right, Ed McMahon burst into gales of hearty laughter.  “Yes, oh Great Carnac, The Magnificent.”

Bill brought his toes together and erased Johnny.  “Looks like we didn’t miss much the first time around.  If this is the best of Carson, I wouldn’t want to see the worst.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Wendy said, “maybe that would be more entertaining.  You know, less scripted, more spontaneous.”

Bill moved his feet apart.  Johnny popped up on the screen again.  Bill wondered if that was true about being funny.  He thought it was true about sex.  Now that sex was a regular part of his life, he was relieved and grateful.  But it seemed less exciting.  He remembered the thrill of picking up chicks in bars and bookstores down city when he was fresh out of Providence College with a graduate degree in economics.  It had helped that he looked like a body builder, that he had trained in gyms from the age of thirteen, and that at seventeen he had become New England Welter-Weight Champion in the Golden Gloves.  Whenever some flighty woman in a bar reached up to trace the scar tissue beneath his left eye or paused to focus on his twice broken nose or asked about the callous on his knuckles, Bill knew he had her.  If he wanted her.  But after hitting forty-five, suddenly all the knockout women close to his age were taken.  On weekends he saw them in minivans driving their kids to the Roger Williams’ Park Zoo or swimming lessons at the Barrington Y.  By the time he was fifty, Bill had gotten used to going a year or more without getting lucky.  Eventually, he found the women in bars divided into two types:  Young and giggly or old and desperate.  They were either caught up in trivial details of undergraduate work or seething with anger about divorces.  They all were obsessive about gaining weight.  Inviting them out to dinner was like asking them to step into the ring.

In hindsight Bill knew his sexual exploits had been a crazy game, the worst-case scenario being AIDS.  Meanwhile the sexual climate had changed.  Pretending to love and to be loved by a stranger no longer seemed possible.  When he had stopped scoring regularly, he told himself that he was being prudent.  The newspapers were filled with cautionary tales:  Sexual harassment law suits filed against CEOs; college administrations issuing strict guidelines governing relations between students and faculty; a picture in the Providence Journal of the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s Chief Justice zipping up his pants while emerging from a liaison with a prostitute at Johnston motel.  At First Federal Trust, where Bill worked, sexual harassment training became mandatory, and officiously scripted dialog replaced flirting.   Being a lapsed New England Catholic, Bill diagnosed these symptoms as resurgent Puritanism.  Once again the culture seemed determined to take the fun out of sex by handing out scarlet “A’s, but this time around it would be to men for exploiting women in a rigged economy.  So, at fifty five, William Williams, now Chief Economist at First Federal with offices throughout New England, began to talk openly of looking for a wife and perhaps starting a family.  Bill’s male colleagues, who had been entertained by his earlier sexual exploits, were amused by his transformation.  Privately they began to refer to him as Bill Squared.

Bill found a wife two years later through a dating service called ForPlay, which operated out of a former fitness club and karate studio on Broadway.  It catered to athletes, arranging dates around workouts and sports—skiing, tennis, swimming, even swing dancing. This appealed to Bill.  As a boxer, he had done a lot of roadwork and weight training.  To stay youthful looking he had continued working out long after he stopped fighting.  So, when Bill read a feature article on dating services in the Providence Sunday Journal, he canceled his health club membership at Gold’s Gym on Bald Hill Road and signed up with ForPlay.  He liked their policy of no embarrassing interviews (“Well, after graduate school at NYU…”) or videotapes (“Hi—SMILE—my name is_______”) or newspaper ads (“SDWM loves walking on the beach, candlelit dinners, and stimulating conversation”).  ForPlay was just a chance to find a healthy mate.  In that way Bill met Wendy on a fun run, scrambling along Blackstone Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon in late April, passing five younger men to catch up to her because he liked what he saw from behind.  He was pleased she was a marathoner.  He wanted a woman who could go the distance.  They began to work out together—five mile runs and resistance training.  By the following January they were married.  She was thirty-seven and wanted children before it was too late.  Bill was fifty-eight and wanted to give Wendy anything that would make her love him.  Now at sixty-one he was trying to become a father.  And now Johnny Carson was razzing Doc Severson about his sportscoat looking like something a pimp would wear to an Easter egg hunt.  Johnny was saying “Where’s the hat with the Peacock feather?  What’s up, Doc?”  Ed McMahon was hysterical.  He cackled and hooted.  His head snapped back, then slumped between his knees as he fought to control his joy.  Finally Ed straightened up, wiped tears from his eyes and cut to a commercial for Tidy Bowl.

“Uh oh,” Wendy said.  “I’m bleeding.”

 

Wendy closed her eyes, leaned back in the passenger seat of their Saab station wagon, and pressed a supersize maxipad between her legs.  Bill drove through rain slick streets and swiped at the foggy windshield with a white towel.  The defroster had died several Sundays ago on their way to the United Church of Christ on Angell, and, although the car was still under warranty, they hadn’t found the time to get it to the dealer’s in Pawtucket yet.  Down Prospect and up Waterman there was almost no traffic.  But as Bill passed Hope, he realized that he was going the wrong direction from habit.  Accustomed to driving Wendy to the Ob-Gyn suite in Wayland Square for fertility treatments and monthly checkups, he had driven her away from the hospital not toward it.   There was no traffic, so he ran the light at Brooke, doubling back toward Hope, then Wickendon and the Point Street Bridge.  He checked his rearview mirror and listened for sirens.  The night was very dark.  Rain sluiced in the gutters and swept twigs and scraps of newspaper into storm sewers.  A Basset Hound frowned wrinkles as it lapped water from a puddle on the broken sidewalk under a streetlight.  The headlights cast small pale yellow pools on the pavement.  They reminded Bill of broken egg yolks.  As he passed beneath the freeway and approached Dudley, he could see the sickly green mercury vapor lights that marked the entrance to Women and Infant’s Hospital.  They made Bill want to vomit.  Hang on, Sloopy, Bill thought.  Hang on. 

The car felt like a cinderblock on wheels; he wondered if he was losing the steering as well as the defroster; Bill wrestled it into the space in front of the glass double doors marked EMERGENCY ROOM.  The asphalt was crosshatched with yellow lines, and a red neon sign read AMBULANCE ONLY.  Bill put on his hazard lights and leaned on the horn until he could see a blur of white coats and stethoscopes appear through the wavy path of the windshield wipers.  The Emergency Room doors burst open, and the water cascading off the roof broke all around them as EMTs pulled Wendy from the car, put her on a gurney, and wheeled her into the hospital with a blood pressure cuff already inflating around her left arm and Wendy holding up the blood soaked pad with her right hand and an EMT pressing Wendy’s hand back down against her crotch and hollering for her to just keep the pressure right on it.

Bill lowered his head to the steering wheel.  The windshield wipers thumped, thumped, thumped like an endless succession of barred doors closing.  Even with his eyes shut the sign’s red glow colored his thoughts.  Without this baby to keep him young, how could Wendy still love him?  He thought, who am I kidding?   I must have been dreaming!  For the first time he could picture himself alone, toothless, hooked up to an IV drip, lying in a nursing home like the one where he had visited his father when the old man was dying of heart trouble.  And like a split screen in a movie, he could see Wendy, seemingly ageless, standing in a navy blue power suit offering her summation to a jury.  This image dissolved into one of their two lovebirds, Anna and Fritz, stretching their clipped wings and singing to the mirror in their cage.  Tonight he knew Anna was sitting on the small white marble that he and Wendy had substituted for the real egg, which they had destroyed after reading about the mortality rate of lovebird chicks in captivity.  Bill imagined Anna and Fritz together now wrapped in silence and darkness by the night curtain.  Then his throat tightened and his eyes watered.  Bill shifted into reverse, backed out of the restricted area, and hunted for a place where he could park the Saab.

 

The voice came from behind the brilliant white light above her.  “Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you ever had.”

Wendy lay swaddled in a gray blanket on the sterile examination table inside the emergency-room cubicle.  Her feet were in stirrups, and a doctor was probing between her legs.  “Oh.  Two.  I think.  You know.  Like cramps, maybe.”

“When did the bleeding start?

“About twenty minutes ago.  We were watching Johnny Carson.  I felt this wetness between my legs.”

“Did you do anything strenuous today?  Lift anything?”

“No, I’ve cut way back on my running.  I stretched a little.  My husband and I had sex this morning after breakfast.  You think that could trigger it?”

“Did intercourse hurt?”

“No.  To tell you the truth, it felt terrific.  Better than usual.

“Good.  Just what Mother Nature intended.  That way, you’ll probably do it again.  If sexual activity isn’t painful, and it’s not too . . .ah . . . . athletic, it can actually be beneficial up until about the eighth month.  It usually keeps the parents happy, and if they’re happy. . .”

Wendy shifted on the examination table, recoiling from the pressure of the cold instruments against her pelvis.  The sanitary paper crinkled under her.  Her voice was suddenly husky.  “I lost the first one.  I don’t want to lose this one.”  She cleared her throat.  “I gave up biking.  And I’ll give up running altogether if I have to.  Just tell me.  I mean, I’ve cut back to six miles a week anyway, you know, like three two-mile runs?  And I swim laps when I can get to the pool at the Y.”

The doctor slipped Wendy’s feet from the stirrups and set them down gently.  She pulled Wendy’s green hospital Johnny down.  “It’s better to stay active if you can.  But walk, don’t run.  Swimming’s okay.  Most women know not to overdo.  However, the bleeding is a concern.  It isn’t just spotting.  On the other hand, it’s just about stopped now.”  The doctor turned off the examination light, and pulled her mask off.  “Some bleeding during early stage pregnancy is not uncommon.  But you’re, what now?  Four months?  Five?”

Wendy tried to blink away the dark spot in her eyes left by the examination light.  She could barely read the physician’s face, just making out a woman of about fifty in green scrubs, short blond hair protruding beneath a paper cap, no makeup.  “Almost five.”

The doctor nodded.  “Yeah, okay.  So, I want an ultrasound.  It won’t hurt anything, and it might tell us something.”

Wendy turned her head to follow the doctor as she edged around the foot of the examination table and held out a hand to help her sit up.  Wendy felt lightheaded.  “I’m not sure I want to know.”

Abruptly, the doctor crossed the cubicle, picked up a second blanket, returned, and draped it around Wendy’s shoulders.  “It’s always better to know.  That’s the only way we can help you have a healthy baby.  I think you’d be surprised how much the medical profession does know.  We’ve got so many options now.”  She glanced again at Wendy’s chart.  “Anyway, I’ll make sure this episode gets into your file so you can go over it with your regular Ob-Gyn, who is Dr. . . . ah . . .oh, looks you’ve got a whole team working on this.  A year and a half of fertility treatments with Wayland Gynecological Associates.  You’re in good hands.  Those guys have childbearing down to a science.”

“We’ll I’m forty, and I guess science got me this far.  But it seems more like a miracle.”

The doctor took a pen from her breast pocket and began writing on the patient chart.  She glanced up.  “Yeah.  We see those, too.  Now let’s get that ultrasound.”

 

Bill punched in the security code, shutting off the alarm system in their Prospect Street home.  He glanced at the darkened stairwell leading up to the master bedroom as he helped Wendy out of her wet raincoat.  He hung it up with his own double-breasted trench coat in the hall closet and shut the door.  He threw the keys down on the dining room table, pulled out an end chair, and collapsed into it.  “I’m beat,” he sighed.  “And I wasn’t even the one doing the bleeding.”

Wendy slipped up behind Bill and placed a large envelope on the table.  Then she bent and put her arms around his neck.  She kissed him on the ear.  “Oh, I don’t know.  You looked pretty white in the face.”  She straightened up and massaged his neck with both hands, digging her fingers in deep like a boxer’s corner man loosening him up for the next round.  His muscles were rigid.  Wendy sighed.  “You know what?”

Bill tipped his head back against Wendy’s belly, hoping to feel movement.  Instead he felt the rising and falling of her breath on the top of his head.  He wondered if he was getting a little bald.  The need to feel his son had become an ache too profound to be massaged away.  It made him weak.  He thought, give me a poke, kid.  Give me a kick in the head.  Your old man is out here waiting.  Finally, Bill grunted, “No, what?”

“I’m starving.  I wish Johnny Rockets up on Thayer Street were open.  I’d get a deluxe hamburger with lots of onions, French fries, a frosty chocolate malt.”

“Yeah, but it’s closed.  It’s, what?”  Bill looked at his Swiss Army watch; there was a Red Cross embossed beneath the numbers.  “A little after midnight.  Nothing’s open.  Nothing but emergency rooms and bars.”  He turned and looked up at Wendy.  “Is this an emergency?  I could pop some corn.”

“That sounds good.  Pop the good stuff, the Orville whatshisface.  The kind where all the kernels pop.  You know, no old maids.”

Bill heaved himself up and took Wendy’s hands in his.  He pushed fatigue aside, forcing himself to speak.  “There are always going to be a few lonely old maids,” he said.  “But you’re not going to be one of them.  I won’t let that happen.”

Wendy stood on her tiptoes and pressed her forehead against Bill’s.  She thought of a lovebird staring at its own reflection in a mirror.  “I know,” she said.  “But it’s not entirely up to you.  I don’t care how tough you are.  That’s too big a responsibility for anybody.  We can’t control everything.”

“So what do we do?”

“We hope.”

“What if we lose this one, too?”

“Cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“It might be too late for me.”

“It might be too late for both of us.”

“So what do we do?”

“What we can.  Let’s look at it one more time.”

Bill let go of Wendy, then, turned toward the table, and slid the grainy black and white image from its beige envelope as if he were the one giving birth.  There it was on the table.  Together they stood, heads bowed, staring at the 8 1/2 X 11 Polaroid enlargement of the ultrasound monitor.  It seemed like a miracle, this projecting sound through flesh and blood to create a shadowy image of more flesh and blood.  There was Sloopy, one hand clutching his umbilical cord, the other raised as if waving to his parents.  Bill’s voice was a hoarse whisper.  “I don’t know if he’s waving hello or goodbye.”

Wendy ran an index finger over the image of her son’s upraised hand, then turned to Bill.  “Damnit, don’t!  Don’t you dare do that to us!”  She paused, fighting for control.  “We’ve got to believe it’s hello.  If you love me, give me that much.”

Bill placed his hand on top of hers.  “Jesus, Wendy, it’s all about probabilities!  When I look at the numbers, it’s hard not to be pessimistic.”  He squeezed his wife’s hand.  “I do love you.  I love you no matter what.”

Wendy swallowed.  Her voice was hoarse.  “This is family were talking about now, not some abstraction.  This is as personal as it can get.  Both of us have got to believe we’re going to be parents.  Both, okay?  All I’ve seen of our son is this crummy looking Polaroid, and I already love him more than I’ve ever loved anything.”

Bill raised Wendy’s fist, unclenched it, and kissed the palm.  “Me, too.  I think we have to show him.  Let’s give him a sign.”  Slowly Bill went down on one knee at Wendy’s feet, like a boxer knocked halfway to the canvas and waiting for the count.  He began to hum “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy, Hang on,” resting his face against her belly so that their son might hear.  Wendy joined in on the second chorus, singing the lyrics softly.  Over the sound of their voices they could hear the lovebirds in the darkness hanging over them.  Anna shredding more newspaper for the nest and Fritz pecking against the bars.

Don Kunz taught literature, creative writing, and film studies at the University of Rhode Island for 36 years.  His essays, poems, and short stories have appeared in over sixty literary journals.  Don has retired to Bend, Oregon, where he writes fiction and poetry, volunteers, studies Spanish, and is learning to play the Native American Flute.

After Pastor Barabbas Died

Ed. Note: This latest fiction, from Nigerian journalist Adetokunbo Abiola, is part of the Fertile Source’s commitment to publishing work by international writers. We’d like to invite writers from around the world to submit original and translated works to The Fertile Source.

Fiction by Adetokunbo Abiola

 

Pastor Barabbas, the man who made a vocation of providing Arigidi women with miracle babies, is dead. He died after a heart attack on the pulpit during a seven-day revival service titled “Get Your Miracle Baby Today.” He blew air into the face of Madam Veronica, sending her into a brief trance. He clutched his chest a few seconds after, slumped to the floor, and died.

Pandemonium broke out in the church. Many of the women ran to the door, shouting at the top of their voice. A few ‘prayer warriors’ gathered round Pastor Barabbas, praying, trying to cast out the demon attacking the ‘demon destroyer’. A few of the women chanted incantation near the pulpit, hoping to ward off the spell cast by witches and wizards, who had at last got the better of their enemy. But the efforts did not wake the man of God from the dead. 

Arigidi, a town partly surrounded by brooding hills, quivered with rage and grief, and not a small amount of apprehension. Pastor Barabbas was the hero of the people. He placed his hands on the brows of women, blew air into their faces, and they fell into a brief trance. They became pregnant a month later. He opened the pages of the bible, told the women to select a name in it, and prayed they should have a child having the qualities of the person they chose. Nine months later, they delivered such a baby. He gave single girls holy water, commanded them to gulp it down; and when they did, they got a husband. Pastor Barabbas had chased the demons, witches, and wizards from Arigidi. The town would never be the same with his death.

Women fainted and howled at his funeral, and their voices went as far as Ashigidi hills. Madam Veronica unwound her wrapper, threw it into his grave, and wanted to jump inside it; but someone held her. Many women brought their miracle babies, speaking to the dead Pastor Barabbas, asking him how they would protect their children now he was gone. Barren women said hope was lost with the demise of the pastor. Tears fell from the women, nearly creating a river in the town.

As he witnessed this, Papa Aturamumu, the Chairman Board of elders in the church and headmaster of one of the local schools, knew trouble brewed in the town. After the funeral ended, he saw Mama Benji, her eyes red with tears, stand by the door, carrying her baby. She gave birth to the boy three months earlier, but the baby was sickly. The doctors at the local clinic, not knowing the precise ailment, said the baby suffered from an ailment Papa Aturamumu could not pronounce. To prevent his death, Mama Benji brought her child to Pastor Barabbas for blessing and protection. Now the pastor was dead, Papa Aturamumu wondered what Mama Benji would do.

Turning, Papa Aturamumu looked into the church, saw his wife, and sighed. His wife would certainly pose problems with the pastor’s death. They had nine daughters, but Papa Aturamumu’s old mother wondered what he was doing with nine daughters. Was it not time he found a woman who would give him a son? Mama Aturamumu overheard the conversation and vowed to give birth to a son. To achieve this, she frequented the pastor’s home, anointed her body with holy oil, and asked him to persuade Papa Aturamumu they should try for a son. Her husband refused. Since the pastor died, Papa Aturamumu noted his wife’s paranoia for a son increased. He heard her asking her friend, Mama Benji, about the baby market in Lagos. Desperate women went to the place to purchase the children they wanted. Though his wife did not tell him she wanted to purchase a son from the market, Papa Aturamumu knew if she became too desperate she would do anything to get a son.

Sighing, he turned from his wife, looked behind him, and saw Madam Veronica. Though she had been married for fifteen years, she could not give birth to a child. Before she started visiting the pastor, she patronized native doctors, babalawos, for solutions to her problem. They made her sleep with as many as six mad men, Papa Aturamumu learned, yet she did not become pregnant. An irate mother-in-law chased her from her matrimonial home, and she was prevented from joining the women’s union so as not to infect others with her barrenness. What would she – and hundreds of other women – do when their last hope was dead?

Already, Aturamumu learned a few women had changed due to  the death of the miracle pastor. They took their new-born babies to other churches even for minor cold, seeking solutions. It was rumored many visited native doctors for concoctions making them pregnant. Other traveled out of town, visiting prophets reputed to have the ability of praying so women could have miracle babies.

Deep down, Papa Aturamumu did not believe it was possible for women to deliver miracle babies. Even though he believed in God, he was a skeptic who held onto his anti-miracle  ideas. But he knew members of the church believed in miracles. After many years of observation, he concluded it was food for their soul. The issue would come up when Barabbas successor was to be named. Aturamumu wondered what it would take him to revert his ideas and whether he could do so when installing a new miracle pastor.

Thinking about all this, Papa Aturamumu walked toward his home, located four hundred meters from the church. Papa Aturamumu did not usually go home after service but he needed to think. Besides, he had to attend a meeting of the church council at home. When he entered his sitting room, the members waited for him. Papa Aturamumu knew they wondered the next step now Pastor Barabbas, the ‘demon destroyer’, was dead and buried.

“The women would be most affected,” Papa Moni, the town banker, said. “And when they are affected, no one will have peace.”

During an earlier meeting, the members of the council debated what a post-Barabbas’s future held for church members. Men would no longer have the opportunity of haggling over tithes and offerings, and thanksgiving money would plunge because the congregation would fall. The number of women coming to Arigidi for miracle babies would reduce, and men would lack nubile girls to bed for babies. But it was their wives that troubled them. When Pastor Barabbas was alive, he satisfied their hunger for more and more babies. Now he was dead, and there were no more miracle babies, their eyes would stray to where they could find them. The men knew they would derail, just as women from surrounding towns derailed when they came to Arigidi for miracle babies. Serious problems loomed with the passage of Pastor Barabbas.

“We must begin the process of choosing a new pastor,” Papa Aturamumu said. “Our women are going astray.”

“How does the church choose a successor?” asked Papa Boluwade, a school teacher and the newest member of the board of elders. “Is it through seniority or hard work?”

Mama Olowomeye hesitated and then coughed. She was a dark complexioned woman who had a reputation for having a fertile imagination. She also frequented native doctors and other spiritualists in town. She would not have been made a council member but was for her contribution to harvest and thanksgiving fund.

“You become a pastor if you show signs of performing miracles,” she said, “or if a little black bird gives signal you can be one.” The women with her nodded with approval. Many of them knew this, and those who did not made mental note of it.

However, Mama Gbenga sighed and said, “A little black bird is said to give a signal. It names the person who will be pastor.” Silence fell in the room.

“But birds don’t talk,” Papa Boluwade said. 

“Nonsense!” said one middle-aged woman sitting beside him. “Birds talk everywhere. Come to my farm.”

“Can’t the process be made simpler?” Papa Boluwade looked doubtful. “Birds can’t talk.” 

“Come to my farm,” said another woman. “I’ll show you birds talking.” 

“My two-year old grandson says this every time. I’m always amused. And this talk about miracles. What …” 

Papa Aturamumu felt he should say something and he stood up. “Elders! Mothers!” he shouted, “People said Pastor Barabbas could perform miracles. To be honest, I don’t think Arigidi can be peaceful if women don’t have someone whom they think can  give them miracles.” Taking a deep breathe, he looked at Mama Olowomeye, who wanted to speak. “Yes, Elder Olowomeye, what do you want to say?” 

“I think we should pray,” Mama Olowomeye said. “We need to wait on the lord.”

“Wait on the lord when thunder wants to blow away our roofs?” Papa Aturamumu countered. “You must be joking.” The meeting ended without the elders reaching a compromise. That was two days ago.

As he now joined the discussion in his sitting-room, Papa Aturamumu knew no solution was in sight. After a long moment, one old man with rough beard called Papa Obayan hammered on the table and coughed. “Let’s do this thing like a team,” he said. “If we stand together we’ll find a successor to Pastor Barabbas.” The elders nodded their heads. Papa Obayan said no suggestion was ridiculous if it would lead to getting the next miracle pastor and bringing peace and stability to Arigidi. Some of the men nodded their heads at this and decided to use their heads to solve the problem. They agreed to make Papa Aturamumu’s sitting room their operational headquarters

They also agreed on a few other things. A little black bird must name the successor to Pastor Barabbas. If it called any assistant pastor’s name he became the new pastor. All assistant pastors stood the chance of replacing Barabbas. All board members of the church would monitor the assistant pastors. Every information would be brought back to Papa Aturamumu’s house for analysis. The facts would be debated and a decision would be reached about Barabbas’ successor. Any decision reached would be binding on all and would be forwarded to the congregation for ratification.

Since it was early May, the rains fell in the evening so all church elders stayed at home. Papa Aturamumu sat in his sitting room while his wife sat opposite him. She hinted she might go to Lagos to make some arrangements. Papa Aturamumu asked her what the arrangements were about, but she did not tell him, saying it was a woman’s business. He suspected she wanted to visit the baby market and make inquiries about how to purchase a boy. However, he did not bother to confront her since he knew she would deny it. The next day, however, sun bathed Arigidi, and the elders knew the search for a successor to Barabbas had started.

Papa Aturamumu was assigned to monitor an assistant pastor called Ijabiyi. Since Ijabiyi began duties at the church a year ago, Papa Aturamumu never attended his service because his head was long and shaped like a hammer. Rather than focus his attention on his sermons, Papa Aturamumu found himself staring at the head and wondering how one could have a hammer-shaped head. Consequently, he never made anything of Ijabiyi’s sermon or notice anything about him. On getting home after monitoring Ijabiyi’s sermon , he took his wife aside and asked her about her views on it. Did the women in the church like Ijabiyi’s preaching? Mama Aturamumu had been keeping malice with her husband for not giving accent to her Lagos visit. She saw his question as an opportunity to take revenge. “Old man,” she said, “Since when has women’s business become your business?” Not knowing how to answer her, Papa Aturamumu took his walking stick from the corner of the room and went out the house.

In the evening, he bought a finger of roasted banana and groundnut, her favorite snacks. Making sure she saw where he placed them on the center table, he asked her again whether women enjoyed Ijabiyi’s sermon in the afternoon. Softened by the sight of the banana and groundnut, his wife said in a harsh voice: “Ijabiyi cannot see vision. He cannot perform miracles. He’s not like Barabbas and Ifeoluwa.”  Nodding, Papa Aturamumu asked whether she saw any bird during the service. His wife nodded her head as though her suspicions had been confirmed. “I suspected something has been wrong with you these past few days,” she said. “Now I’m sure about it. Haven’t you always seen birds in the church?” She hissed, grabbed the banana and groundnut, and left the room. 

Papa Bolanle Mobolanle, a retired  clerk, rubbed his jaw, adjusted his ancient spectacles, and said: “If she saw a bird, what are we waiting for? Ijabiyi must be the man.”

Mama Olowomeye shook her head. “She saw a bird,” she told him. “She did not see a little black bird. It has to be a little black bird.”

The church elders began their work from there, monitoring the assistant pastors for their ability to perform miracles. They attended every sermon, questioned their wives, and looked for little black birds. As they did this, men also monitored their wives. Many of them attended services, but others took taxis and went to neighboring towns in search of pastors who could perform signs and wonders. These pastors were thought to be useful to women looking for the fruit of the womb. Papa Aturamumu watched his wife with growing concern. She wanted to travel to Ikare, a nearby town, to visit her family, but he forbade her. He suspected she wanted to travel to the baby market in Lagos.

Back in his sitting room a week later, the members of the council looked sad. Their search had yielded no lead. “We have to bring up new ideas to solve this problem,” Papa Aturamumu told them, tapping his walking stick on the table. “Women are no longer coming to service. Papa Moni, you were supposed to monitor Ifeoluwa. What did you observe?”

Papa Moni sat straight in his chair, pulled up the collar of his shirt, and shook his head. “I didn’t see any sign of miracle during his services,” he said.

“No little black bird?” Mama Olowomeye asked.

“Not even a single bird” The elders sighed. It would be difficult to find a replacement for Pastor Barabbas.

“How did the women react to Ifeoluwa?” he asked. “Will he be able to keep them in line?”

Papa Moni nodded, touched his collars, and came alive.

“I don’t see any problems here,” he said. “He’s good with women. I did see one of the choristers wink at him. It doesn’t mean he’ll take our wives, but that he’ll be able to communicate with them.” 

Papa Aturamumu frowned at the reference made to wives but persisted with his questions.

“Do you think he’ll ever develop the spirit to perform miracles?” he asked. 

“Thank you, Elder,” Papa Moni said. “I can say knowing whether he’ll be a miracle pastor is tricky. I’m not God, and I can’t tell the future. I know people say miracle pastors can be found through dreams, but I didn’t dream about him during the week. I thought I could define his character by the way we assess people in the bank. When people wear good shoes we feel they’re trustworthy and will build a good portfolio. But I don’t know whether we can judge miracle pastors by looking at what shoes they wear.” 

To prevent laughter, Papa Aturamumu wore a blank expression on his face.

“And what did you see when you looked at Ifeoluwa’s shoes?”

Papa Moni pulled at the collar of his shirt and looked at the elders.

“Elders, he has changed his shoes,” he said. “He used to wear old shoes, but he’s now wearing brand-new ones. Of course, I don’t know whether this can be used as a criterion to judge a future miracle pastor.” 

Papa Aturamumu was brusque.

“The fact he’s now wearing new shoes doesn’t mean a thing,” he said. “A devil can wear new shoes and claim to be a saint.” He looked at the other elders in room. “Any observations? Any miracles from the assistant pastors?” The elders stared at him, not saying anything because they did not witness any miracle or see the little black bird. Things were going from bad to worse, Papa Aturamumu thought, then said, “Many of our women are going to other towns in search of miracle babies and pastors. Others are thinking of going to the baby markets in Lagos. Husbands and wives are quarreling over babies everyday. Elders, Arigidi is in serious trouble.” He looked at the elders once more and shook his head with sadness.  “Are we saying we didn’t notice anything in the past one week? Are there no new ideas apart from the miracle ones?” Mama Olowomeye sighed and Papa Aturamumu recognized her. “Yes, Mama, what do you have to say?”

“I’m not quite sure what I want to say is right,” Mama Olowomeye began, “but I think the situation demands it.”

“What do you have to say?” Papa Aturamumu said.

“As you know, I was assigned to Arogundade,” Mama Olowomeye said, “but after I attended his service, I found out something very important.”

“What is it?”

“Well, no bird spoke during Arogundade’s service, and there were no signs of miracles. However, I met a friend after church who told me about a miracle prophet in Ibadan. He prophesies the future by simply looking into water put in a spiritual pot. After looking into the water, the prophet tells people what will happen in future. What babalowos cannot do this prophet can do it. Some women drink cow milk for nine months before they learn anything about their future. This prophet does the work in only five minutes, and his prophecy works. Some women sleep with toothless mad men for months so their future can be revealed. This prophet will do the same thing in three minutes. And his prophecy comes true. Everybody speaks well of him. I think we should consult him so he can tell us where we can find this little bird.”

The elders burst into cheers. Papa Moni stood up, crossed the room, and patted Mama Olowomeye on the head. Papa Bolanle shook her hand as though she won a lottery and solved the riddle confronting them.

Papa Aturamumu tapped the walking stick on the center table.

“Mama Olowomeye,” he said, “Did you get this information from the village native doctor?”

“If I did I wouldn’t have told anyone about it.”

Papa Aturamumu nodded, pleased. “This is a way forward,” he said. “Who can tell a miracle pastor better if not a miracle prophet.” The elders decided they would visit the miracle prophet. They selected Mama Olowomeye and Aturamumu for the journey. The miracle prophet would only be questioned about where the elders could find the little black bird. He would not be asked to divine Pastor Barabbas’s successor. That evening, the elders went to their various homes with the confidence they would find a new miracle pastor. The problems of Arigidi women would be solved.

The prophet’s church was a large hall surrounded by oil palm trees. Shacks built of wood stood in front of it. Members of the church wore red gowns and walked about in white shoes. Men and women sat on white plastic chairs and waited for the prophet. A thick scent of incense hung in the air.

After waiting for two hours, a male usher took Papa Aturamumu and Mama Olowomeye to the presence of the prophet, commanding them to prostrate on the ground. After he was briefed about the purpose of their mission, the prophet took them to a pot placed at the corner of the room. Its water was black and still. The prophet began to chant incantations and dance. Spraying incense to the four corners of the room, he pranced about the place. Finally, he stopped and told his visitors to look into the pot. The water in it swirled and looked green.

“Can’t you see the bushes?” the prophet asked.

Papa Aturamumu did not see anything but said he could. “Yes, yes, I can see it.”

The prophet looked at Mama Olowomeye. “And can you see the hills?” he asked.

Mama Olowomeye did not see any hill but said she could.

“The little black bird would appear next tomorrow by the bush behind the hill beside the church,” the prophet pronounced.

The elders stayed by the bush behind the hill beside the church on the appointed day but no little black bird appeared. Angry, Papa Aturamumu said Mama Olowomeye must have got her information about the prophet from the village native doctor. Papa Moni said the church must screen out people who patronized soothsayers when it wanted to appoint new council members.

Meanwhile, the women continued to travel out of town in search of miracle pastors and babies. Husbands quarreled with their over the incessant journeys. Mama Aturamumu quarreled with her husband for not wanting a tenth baby and preventing her journey to Lagos. On Monday, while Papa Aturamumu strolled to the church to monitor, once again, Assistant Pastor Ijabiyi, he saw people trooping to the street as though a spectacle had occurred. Men, women, and children spoke in an animated manner. Something strange had happened in the town and Papa Aturamumu wondered what it was.

However, he considered it bad manners to poke his nose into matters that did not concern him, so he continued his stroll toward the church. But he noticed women in the throng were in a jubilant mood. He had not seen them looking so bright since Pastor Barabbas, the miracle baby pastor, died a few weeks ago. Intrigued now, he stopped and looked at them.

The women, with big smiles planted on their faces, headed for an orchard of mango trees standing beside the church premises. Many backed their children, while others held the hands of their sons and daughters and moved into the orchard. They walked as though they could hardly wait to discover the secret awaiting them beside the church. They shouted and clapped their hands.

Following them, Papa Aturamumu entered the orchard. He saw women and children looking at a giant mango tree in the center of the orchard. Some of the women brought chairs and sat on them, while others stood under the tree. Flies buzzed in the enclosure, and the air was hot.

Papa Aturamumu noticed his wife standing twenty meters in front of him. She folded her arms across her breasts and stood next to Mama Benji. They spoke to each other in whispers, then clapped their hands as their eyes riveted to the top of the tree. As he watched them, he noticed a stir rise in the crowd , and everyone looked at the branches of the mango tree. Papa Aturamumu saw disappointment on their faces a moment later as they moaned. 

Now completely interested in discovering the reason for the big crowd, Papa Aturamumu inched his way toward his wife. He stood a few meters from her so he could hear what she said without arousing her attention.

“Yes,” Mama Aturamumu said, “I’m sure it’ll appear again.” 

“Now you mention it,” said Mama Benji, “the church elders should hear about it. Miracles like this don’t happen every time.” 

“Didn’t the boy say the bird called an assistant pastor’s name?” Mama Aturamumu asked. 

“He said so,” Mama Benji said. “He said he had been going to pluck mango from the tree. The little black bird perched on the branch with the mango. The boy said the bird started speaking to him, calling a name. The boy said he was so frightened he almost jumped down the tree.”

“Where’s the boy?” 

Mama Benjo pointed at a scrawny looking boy sitting on a tread-bare mat a few meters away. Papa Aturamumu sighed, pushed two women standing in his way to a side, and marched to the boy. He was one of the boys Papa Aturamumu chased from the orchard with a stick anytime he came to steal mango. He bent down to his haunches and stared at the boy.

“Did you say you saw a little black bird on that mango tree?” he asked.

The boy was too frightened to speak.

“Don’t worry,” Papa Aturamumu told him. “I won’t beat you for trying to steal our mango. I just want to know what happened. What did the little black bird say?” 

“It said Ifeoluwa many time over.”

Papa Aturamumu decided the little black bird could not have spoken to him. God could not choose a man who wore old shoes as pastor. It was bad enough believing a little black bird could speak to people.

Another thought occurred to him. Ifeoluwa may have paid the boy to stage this spectacle so he could be made the pastor. Papa Aturamumu decided to keep the issue from the hearing of his fellow elders. If they did hear, Papa Aturamumu vowed to say Ifeoluwa bribed the boy to stage the charade. Having come to this decision, Papa Aturamumu left the orchard, heading for the church.

As he trudged down the street, another thought occurred to him. Pastor Barabbas preached anyone lying against the spirit got destroyed by lightning and thunder. Papa Aturamumu looked at the sky and did not see any sign of the agents of doom. Pastor Barabbas could not be telling the truth, he thought. He decided to keep quiet about the incident at the orchard.

But when he got home in the evening, a mysterious wind began to blow in the town. Papa Aturamumu heard a crash at his backyard and ran out the house. His treasured paw paw tree lay flat on the ground, blown down by the wind. As Papa Aturamumu mused about this, he felt pain pound his head and groaned. Suddenly, he felt the world spinning around him, and he crashed to the floor. As he got up, he fell against the tree as the wind buffeted him.

He ran into the house, amazed by the quick turnaround of events. What could have caused it? he asked himself. Could God be punishing him for not wanting to disclose what he heard and saw at the orchard to fellow elders. Before he answered the question, thunder crashed in the evening and he heard the sound of the turbulent wind as it buffeted the roof of his house. The wind wanted to pull it away  and fling it into the street. Papa Aturamumu quickly decided his refusal to alert the elders about the orchard episode could be responsible – spiritual issues could be so mysterious. As soon as the storm subsided a little, he ran out his house to summon an elders meeting for the next evening. 

In his sitting room twenty four hours later, the elders were in a jubilant mood. A replacement for Pastor Barabbas had been found. They did not question whether birds could talk to people.

“Okay, Papa Aturamumu, where is the boy? Let him tell us what the bird told him,” one of them said. Their eyes moved to the frightened boy, still not convinced they would not punish him for stealing mango from the orchard.

Immediately he saw him, Papa Moni frowned.

“I know this boy,” he said. “He’s fond of stealing mango in the orchard. Is he reliable?” 

Papa Aturamumu coughed and stood up. “Good talk, Elder,” he said. “I myself have seen him stealing mango many times. I didn’t believe his story until God sent thunder to blow  off my roof and I almost got killed. We must remember the spirit moves in mysterious ways. Look at Paul in the bible. The woman whom the bird told that Barabbas should be our pastor, was she not an old woman without teeth?” 

Mama Olowomeye turned to the boy.

“Boy, what did the little black bird say?”

“He kept on saying Ifeoluwa,” the boy replied.

After a little argument, the elders decided Ifeoluwa should be appointed the pastor of the church. The church members should be summoned and informed of the decision of the elders. Mention must be made the choice came after a miraculous revelation by the little black bird. It was a sign Arigidi would continue to have miracle babies. But Papa Moni raised an objection.

“What is it?” asked Papa Aturamumu, irritated.

“Pastor Ifeoluwa should be told not to wear his old shoes again.”

“Your advice is noted”

By next Sunday, the announcement was made. The elders and the congregation wore satisfied smiles on their faces. Once Ifeoluwa assumed duties, the women brought their babies to him for blessing. Madam Veronica, instead of visiting babalawos, returned to the church in the search of the fruit of the womb. Mama Benji stopped traveling in search of miracle pastors to save her baby. Mama Aturamumu suspended her trip to the baby market and decided to appeal to the new miracle pastor to persuade her husband so they could try for the tenth child. As for Papa Aturamumu, he smiled at the peace that returned to the church even though he still did not believe in miracle pastors.

Adetokunbo Abiola is a Nigerian journalist and writer. He has published LABULABU MASK, a novel (Macmillan Nigeria). He has also published in print and online magazines such as Rake Journal, BBC Focus on Africa Magazine, Flask Review, Zapata!, Liberation Lit, Sage of Consciousness Review, Africa Writer.Com , Big Pulp, the One World anthology, The November 3rd Club, Mobius – A Journal for Social Change, Tres Crow World, 5923 Quarterly, Contemporary World Literature Journal, Bicycle Review, May Day Magazine, Saraba, Pulse Literary Review and the Mainstay Press Anthology. He has stories about to be published in Wilderness House Literary Review.

Light and Gravity: A Sampler of Birth Images by Elizabeth Sobkiw

linoleum cut monoprint pregnant skeleton

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Blue backdrop pregnant body in white with black pelvic bone

 
 
 
 
 
 

Green backdrop pregnant body white purple butterflies and black pelvic bone

 






Detail purple butterflies and spine pregnant body on green backdrop







pregnant body, white plaster, spine and ribs like butterfly




Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams (www.elizandra.com) is currently an art teacher in Montclair, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Matthew. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Studies in 2007, and completed her Masters degree in Art Education in 2011. She is passionate about art, travel, good food, and loves spending time with family and friends.

Read our interview with Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz:  Pregnant in a Barren Landscape: Art, Control, and Premature Ovarian Failure.

Nature Writing, Procreation, and the Human Condition: an interview with Mike Freeman

Two weeks ago, The Fertile Source published Mike Freeman’s essay “Referential.” This week, he answers some questions about the writing life, nature writing, and procreation.

“Referential” is an essay that explores many parallel lines of thought. Among those lines of thought are the havoc that human habitation wreaks on nature; the fragility of nature but its ability to bounce back; and the fear you have, as an expectant father, that the world you’re bequeathing to your child is too damaged. How do you balance the tension of multiple lines of thought in your writing?

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about that.  Like most people who write, I wish I had the talent to be a poet, as poets expel the most thought from the fewest words.  Emily Dickinson can braid multiple uncertainties into a few lines, thoughts that talented novelists take four-hundred pages to achieve, even then losing much clarity along the way.  Poets are additionally attractive for their penchant to ask questions rather than answer them.  Like Dickinson, people like Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens pose several of the questions that terrorize all people in compressed space.  They do all this best, it seems, with images, or descriptions of the living world, a vividness out of which their various themes emerge.  If I can’t be a poet, I’ve tried to mimic that use of imagery. 

You wrote “Referential” when your partner became pregnant rather quickly after you started trying, to both of your surprise. Despite the mutual decision to have children, your essay explores the feelings of ambivalence you had going forward, considering the world we live in. The sparse lines referencing those feelings speak volumes—the “newfound life burdening her womb.” Now that you have not one but two children, have some of your fears been resolved or have they been strengthened?

My parental experience has amplified every emotion, positive and negative, as I imagine is the case with most new mothers and fathers.  If my fears of what sort of world we’ll bestow were previously unsettling, they’ve ramified exponentially since our two daughters were born.  Keeping pace, however, is hope.  I have no idea what sort of world they’ll inherit, only that it will be different from the one in which I reared.  I hope, however, as that’s most of what I can do, that different won’t mean worse, that they’ll adapt to the changes accordingly and find happiness in the environment they inhabit.  This hope, in fact, has probably eclipsed the fear, which might be a great gift of parenthood.  Blind or no, without such hope mothers and fathers might be sunk.

Can you talk about what “nature writing” can offer for our understanding of the human condition, particularly as it relates to this ongoing project of bearing and raising young?

I’m probably not qualified to answer what the writing can offer, but will speak to what general observation – from which we create everything – might tell us.  People of both religious and secular philosophies are usually in violent agreement about the fundamental questions, something that a day observing nature can verify.  Most religions, for instance, have some variation of the Garden of Eden, a time when humanity wasn’t distinct from nature.  Pure evolutionists feel the same way, though they use a different route to get there.  Now, however, everyone has the sense that we exist in limbo, not entirely separate from nature but not entirely a part of it.  It’s quite difficult to imbibe any other feeling when immersed in nature, even for an hour.  One place where we both simultaneously diverge from nature while running parallel with it is procreation.  Biologists have a distilled, quite dull answer to the meaning of life.  “Life exists to replicate itself.”  While most of us feel there’s far more to it than that, this statement is indisputable.  All life reproduces, and watching many creatures raise their young gives you a great sense of kinship, along with the fantastic risks and exhaustion that parents experience in creating the next generation.  Humans, though, have been so successful that we now grapple with the ingrained urge to reproduce while having the sense that we need to limit that same urge.

You reference Adam and Eve in your essay. In Genesis 1, God charges Adam with taking care of the earth (“subduing” it, in the New International Version) but also to “be fruitful and multiply.” Can you explain some of your thoughts about how, as humans, we can balance our need to protect the world we live in with the imperative that seems built into our genes to “be fruitful and multiply”?

The Bible is difficult stuff.  Terrific stories, terrific themes, some dreadfully unfortunate phraseology.  We’ve had to subdue – or at least beat back – nature enough to enjoy the success we’ve had.  On the other hand, we’ve almost certainly overdone it, which now threatens our drive – whether genetically or religiously mandated – to be fruitful and multiply.  How we balance this I’m not sure, but voluntarily decreasing family size seems to be a good place to start, though I certainly have no desire to judge anyone who chooses to have a big family nor do I have authority to do so.

Another terrific story from Genesis is the Flood, which secularists share as well.  Lately, there seems to be a particularly high rate of apocalyptic prophesying, likely stemming from a collective intuition that humans have become too numerous, too corrupt, to live as they’ve been living.  Secularists point to global warning while those with religious inspiration tout some version of the End of Times.  Again, same anthropogenic catalyst, same catastrophic end, different narratives.  Most of us, then, no matter our background, feel the need to strike some sort of balance between our undeniable success and its impact on the world in which we live.  How that can be done, however, will be a trick, and an increasingly large amount of people seem to crave some sort of version of the Flood, to wipe us clean where we can start anew.  I’m not among these, but I do understand the sentiment.

How has fatherhood meshed with your career as a writer?

As I imagine is true with most new parents, fatherhood has cut away great chunks of time that I normally devoted to writing (and reading, which is of course a great portion of writing).  On the other hand, having children has taught me too much to ever have more than passing regret.  In addition, it certainly provides a great deal of new material.  Our oldest daughter, for instance, has autism, which at the outset is as alien a wilderness as any explorer ever experienced in the remotest corner of the globe.  People largely write, though, to try to understand what questions plague them, if not answer them, and writing has helped in some small way understand our family interplay.

Please tell us about your forthcoming book with SUNY Press.

The book is entitled “Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson”, and centers on a canoe trip I took down the Hudson River.  Karen became pregnant while I was living in Alaska.  We barely knew each other, and I quite abruptly left my home of ten years to come back east in lockstep with the Recession.  Needing a way to make money, or at least try, I proposed the idea of floating the Hudson to reflect upon its cultural influence, using that history to frame our most delicate current tensions – race, labor, energy use, pollution, gender politics, and others.  Throughout, a personal thread wrestles with the anxieties of stay-at-home parenting and family life in general.  The link is here.

Referential

 An essay by Mike Freeman

“It’s beautiful.”

 Four months pregnant, my partner Karen sat in the bow, the canoe gliding unfretfully as I took an occasional stroke.  She’d barely whispered, and didn’t specify her mark.  There wasn’t one outside the estuary itself.  I’d nearly forgotten that, what nature can do, take the air out of you for no other reason  beyond its own depths.  Across the marsh, the backloader’s long, hydraulic arm craned waste about the landfill, the joints squealing where they needed oil, and closer to us a cluster of Canada Geese murmured unalarmed from some vantage in the grass.  Far above, an osprey traced the swamp’s southern arm, while the post-rushhour traffic hummed along the interstate, the distant vehicles scarcely visible between a lattice of feral grape draped from a pair of hickories to our right, their half-turned leaves rotating the light of the late September sun.

It’s jumpable, Pine Creek, trickling beneath the highway, then bleeding into Long Island Sound on the Connecticut side.  Since the glaciers’ retreat, tides have routed a narrow canal around a treeless island, a half-mile square.  It’s unfloatable at low water, and Karen and I had been lucky, getting off the train from Grand Central then making the mile walk to my father’s, where we launched the canoe as the water crested, pushing it through the marsh grass and bobbing bottles and tattered Styrofoam.  After ten years in Southeast Alaska, I’d moved back a few months before, to Queens, and the canoe below and fragrant assertions of high-slack unbound skeins of fond memories, all drenched by hundreds of square miles where glacial mountains meet boreal rainforest meets littoral fecundity meets the Pacific, scarcely a trace charactered by human hands.

My father revels in Pine Creek.  Hemmed in by ocean to the south, a dump to the west, the interstate to the east, and the concentrate of beach houses to the north – including his own – the scant acreage provides his only access to the world he adores.  While out west I’d listen to his beleaguered recitations of the region’s waning life – scarcely a Baltimore oriole this season; haven’t heard a wood thrush in years; not a brown thrasher to be seen.  As a younger man these birds had been in relative abundance, but gradually fell away, he’d said, the way daylight dissipates from solstice to solstice.  These laments, though, were countered by other news, like an indigo bunting, its inky delight harrying a neighbor’s hedge, or the plaintive declination of an oven bird, put forth from the wild rose banking the creek across the way.  Coyotes, too, seemingly everywhere again, hunt the estuary for whitetail fawns and residual mayonnaise, and skunks fuss about his tiny lawn each night, sniffing recycling bins, digging for grubs.  His enthusiasm, then, while hobbled, is hardly repressible.

Karen’s back rose and fell, each salted breath feeding the newfound life burdening her womb.  I dipped the paddle for a lazy stroke, mulling the ambivalence wrought by our developing daughter.  What sort of world do we bequeath?  Doubtless a diminished one, I thought, watching Karen’s sight line trace an undulant tern, and perilous too, feeling foolish in the same breath.  These same questions vexed Adam and Eve, I imagined, or at least their secular counterparts.  Drifting amidst the clamp of macadam and diesel fume, though, air traffic and municipal waste, this tatter of swamp seemed the final thread of that prelapsarian vim.  The setting, then, deemed the inquiry pertinent.  I slipped the paddle in and drew it forward, my pregnant partner and I floating above the occluded water.

A quarter-mile off, a cloud of starlings materialized from the sedge beneath the dump berm.  They banked in concert, then again, and once more on approach before littering the grape tresses with anxious, iridescent forms.  Their manic chatter reigned down upon several mallards and a lone black duck, who fed amidst the high-bank grasses the tide afforded.  When our daughter turned our age we’d be eighty.  Forty years.  What rift, then, between our own baselines?  Birds with whom my father reared were scarcely known to me, but there was also a federal raptor bounty, and he marvels at the hawk life he now sees.  A moose was hit and killed not far from here the previous summer, and black bears, too, down from the north, have begun re-colonizing, like palmers to neglected shrines.  To Karen, Pine Creek is a refuge, where nature permeates you unencumbered.  To me, it’s an oversight, a tainted vestige.  After months within urban confines, however, that stance had weakened.  Terra firma, terra incognita – no two perspectives tread the same patch of land, even within a single mind, and how forty years’ of such revolutions would resolve remained a mystery.

While the past and future may inform the present, though, they never knock us out of it for long.  Where the marsh opens to sound, a pair of jet-skiers carved circles in the flooded delta, but Karen noticed something closer – dozens of needly fish broaching the marble of expulsed motor oils and gentle slack water.  Juvenile blue fish – or snappers – must have been frenzied below them, and I vaguely recalled their gray, brainy flesh, so different than a salmon’s.  We passed a black-crowned night heron, waiting out the tide in the island’s reeds.  Once the water had flushed away it would move to the flats, to raid the fiddler crabs come up from the mud.  Passing the last houses to our left, I looked up.

I hadn’t seen an oriole’s nest for ten years or more, but its bulbous, hang-drop form couldn’t be mistaken.  We slid beneath, and Karen asked what it was.  My naturalist’s love is governed by an amateur’s ken, and I didn’t know whether it was a Baltimore’s or orchard oriole’s, and said so.  It dangled from a cherry branch, while a moth dithered about the grassy stitchwork.  Two months’ abandoned, the delicate weave remained stout.  Not long ago birthy hatchlings peered from the hole that I now glided under, to get a glimpse of their newborn world.  I craned my neck as far as it would go, then righted myself.  Karen trailed a finger in the water, looking ahead where an amalgam of gulls lifted and lit as the backloader allowed, falling upon our remains.  The ocean, as it does, fell out of favor with the moon, and I steadied the canoe in its first subtle tug, saying, “It is beautiful.  Isn’t it?”

           

Mike Freeman lives in Newport, RI, with his wife and two daughters.  In September, 2011, the State University of New York (SUNY) Press will release his nonfiction book Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson, centered on a canoe trip down the Hudson River while reflecting on Recession-era America and the delicate frictions transforming its culture.

Read our interview with Mike Freeman conducted by Jessica Powers, Nature Writing, Procreation and The Human Condition: An Interview with Mike Freeman.

Fear, Love, Pregnancy, Loss, and Memoir: Mira Ptacin on writing “A Kind of Love”

Mira Ptacin’s essay, “A Kind of Love,” was published on The Fertile Source a couple of weeks ago. Here, editor Jessica Powers talks with Mira about her experience with losing a pregnancy and then writing about it.

Your essay delves so honestly into the conflicting, ambiguous feelings of pregnancy: fear and a new love welling up inside you. In your case, it was complicated by the unexpectedness of the pregnancy, how sick you were, and the reality that your baby was not going to make it outside of the womb. What gave you the freedom to expose all of these things we don’t like to talk about in this essay?

I have the most wonderful parents. The raised me to believe that it’s not just important, but essential to vocalize my thoughts and feelings, and often. They’ve always encouraged me to pave my own path. So to answer your question, I believe that my parents gave me the freedom, or gifted me with the freedom to make “feelings sharing” a vital part of my well-being. One way I make sense of the world around me is by putting my feelings about life into words. Losing a child was one of the most confusing, upsetting, life-altering moments I’d ever experienced, so writing was the tool that helped me make sense of it all. I needed to understand what happened, and what grief was.

I had to describe my world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely. By the practice of writing about my sadness, I began to understand it, and be less afraid of it. By exploring my grief I came to understand that there was no “answer” or explanation. This is what helped me begin my healing process. Self-expression is not just freedom or a gift, it’s a necessity.
You offer such an interesting juxtaposition between the doctors’ phrasing to tell you your baby was going to die–“it is sick,” they said–versus the way you explained it to your family, which is “the baby is sick.” Did you struggle with the coldness of scientific knowledge and the practice of medicine? How in the end did the medical establishment treat you? Did you continue to find it alienating or were you finally embraced, somehow, when you made the decision to terminate the pregnancy?
 
 

 

 
 
 

Mira Ptacin

I was in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence when this all happened. SLC is one of the most expensive schools in the country, and I was on student loans, so before I got pregnant (before I had even met Andrew, for that matter), I had chosen to opt out of the health insurance to save a little money. Then I met Andrew. Then we got pregnant. We hadn’t planned on it—I had been taking birth control every single day, and never had missed a pill! When we found out I was pregnant, I had to sign up for Medicaid, because we weren’t married. While we loved our doctor, we hated the clinic we went to. After we found out the baby wasn’t viable outside my womb, it was all downhill. Right after we received the horrible news in the ultrasound, we were escorted over to see a genetic counselor, who would take our family history to see what had gone wrong. Minutes after receiving the terrible news, and minutes before seeing the genetic counselor, we were told that he refused to see us, that he “wasn’t allowed” to see us, because Medicaid only allowed me one doctor visit per day.  We were shaken, tired, terribly confused. We didn’t know if we had done something wrong. We wanted help, and we wanted answers. Finally, after she spotted my husband and me crying in a waiting room, a medical intern stepped in and convinced the genetic counselor to talk to us, rather than eat his lunch. In a room that smelled like mayonnaise and lettuce from his lunch, the genetic counselor proceeded to explain what might have possibly happened that caused our baby to be so sick. (It was purely a genetic fluke; nothing we could’ve done.) During the actual procedure, there was very little privacy at the hospital. We were often uncomfortable and exposed. We shared rooms. They were running late and short-staffed. The whole experience was harsh, painful, shocking, traumatic. And very impersonal. I’m assuming this is not due to the doctors’ and nurses’ and employees’ lack of care, but because the hospital just wasn’t equipped. It didn’t have enough money and or resources. It was exhausted. Everyone was exhausted. Sadly, the majority of people in NYC, not to mention in this country, are not rich and cannot afford good medical care, so this type of treatment happens more often than not. In fact, this goes on every day. That’s pretty pathetic, considering we live in one of the wealthiest industrialized nations.

There’s a moment in your essay when you sight a hawk and it sets you off on an absurd set of speculations that become metaphorical for your predicament. Can you talk about how you crafted that scene? How do you balance what happened in real life with crafting it to mean something larger, symbolically speaking, within an essay?
Writers have to be careful with metaphor. Sometimes, it’s best just to be direct, rather than try to find too many metaphors. You want to make sure the reader gets lost in the story, not caught up in the voice of the writer. You don’t want your audience to start pondering the writer’s craft, or questioning your technique. But sometimes, in real life, when something really significant is actually happening, you can’t help but notice all the little signs and the little metaphors surrounding you. Sometimes life just speaks in metaphor, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why it’s important to always be CONSCIOUS and honest with yourself, and trust your skills as a writer. Being fancy doesn’t always mean you’re being awesome.
 
 

 

 When this scene in Squaw Valley was actually happening in “real time”, things were extremely confusing and difficult for me. Nothing made sense, but the things I did see seemed to just be metaphors, everything seemed to be a sign or metaphor. Or maybe I was just looking for a sign or answer to where to go next and what to do. I was also at a Writer’s Retreat, which was really tricky: I was there for a nonfiction conference, but I didn’t tell anyone what was going on “underneath the surface” in my life. I was sort of being a fictional nonfiction writer. And at the time, I wasn’t writing about what was happening in my life. Looking back at it now, I think that was really crazy of me. But by having such a secret, I was lonely and was looking for signs or symbols for an answer, signs from things other than people. And I think I found many of them on that fortuitous hike.

I only confided in one professor, an extremely talented and compassionate author named Jason Roberts (http://jasonroberts.net/) who was one of my writing coaches. We were talking about a manuscript I was working on about a murder at an “Oriental massage parlor” in my hometown. After some discussion about nonfiction/memoir/narrative, I eventually told him about my current predicament, and he told me to throw away the true crime manuscript and that I should be writing about my pregnancy/loss. Maybe he said I HAD to write about it. So I did. And it became a book.

You’re currently at work on a memoir. Can you tell us about it?

First of all, I have to thank Jason Roberts for encouraging me to write about it. When writers are in the beginning stages of their career, it’s very difficult to navigate one’s way, and having gurus/advisors/mentors is more valuable than gold.

Three years ago I began writing about loss and am now in the final stages of editing my manuscript:
“Poor Your Soul” is a memoir about the thin line between decisions made out of love and choices made when influenced by guilt. It traces my mother’s coming-of-age at age twenty-eight, her immigration from Poland to Battle Creek, Michigan, the adoption of her son Julian and his tragic death, mirrored by my migration from the Midwest to Manhattan, my accidental pregnancy and decision to keep the baby, the traumatic loss of my baby, and finally, my marriage in New York City, also at age twenty-eight. Our two stories are strikingly similar, and by reflecting on my mother’s, I learn how to cope with the inevitable but unexpected losses a woman faces in her the search for identity. In other words, this book is about the Uterus and The American Dream.
My mother learned to speak English by watching soap operas, and as a result, her English is a bit butchered. “Embrace yourself” really means brace yourself. And when Mum says something is eating her “out”, it’s really eating her up. POOR YOUR SOUL is something my mom would say as a warning, like “If I catch you watching T.V. on a school night, then poor your soul. POOR YOUR SOUL!” It translates into “I sure do feel sorry for your poor soul because it’s going straight to hell.” Soap operas are hardly realistic—plotlines generally revolving around amnesiacs, the resurrected dead, and the occasional demonic possession. An episode can switch between several dramatic threads at once, linked by chance meetings and coincidences. They’re like tapestries that never end. When one story ends another thread slithers in. In a precisely similar way, I have seen my own storyline develop. Embrace yourself.
 
 

 

Rhythms of Women and Nature: An Interview with Artist Christine DeCamp

Christine DeCamp

In your painting “Incubating”, we see a beautiful image of a half woman/half nautilus figure resting in the belly of a fish, kelp or seastrands descending from the top, and rising up from the bottom, which gives the setting of the painting a mirror world quality–an above and below depicted simultaneously. There’s a sense of internal peace and stillness, the eyes of the dreamer/figure closed (the fish/vessel seems to see and steer for both of them). Your work often features these female figures blending self or spirit with the natural world (sort of like female variations on a centaur). Can you talk about the process of painting Incubating? Why is she traveling inside the fish?

The ocean is our Mother of Mothers from whence all life began. It contains all the references to creation, femininity and the mysteries of life and birth. It is also the mirror of our psyche. The woman inside the shell, inside the womb of the fish and inside the waters of the ocean are reminiscent of the process of evolution, creation and the birth process. I can’t really say much about the process of painting it as it is an older piece–and much of my work develops intuitively, which I believe was true in this case.

In “The Birth of a  Moth” we see a brown-winged woman rising up out of an iridescent ripple in a tree stump, three comets or plumes of light emanating from her crown against the backdrop of night sky. The mystical qualities of night also seem to be characteristic of a number of your settings. Can you tell us what nightscapes offer for you? What the stump and moth figure mean for you?

The moth is a cecropia moth–a large and unusual species. I have heard that they cocoon underground, however I don’t know if that is true. They can be quite large–6 inches or so across, and their wings have the appearance of fur, while their antennae each looks like a feather. They have appeared to me several times as messengers at times of significant shifts in my life. They tend to be creatures of the night. The night is a magical time, when our reality shifts and the veils between the worlds are less dense and easier to traverse. Night belongs to the wild, as civilization tends to fear the darkness. The stump is part of a tree, which connects that which is underground through its roots to that which exists through all the layers of being, extending into the heavens. Trees are containers of life force.

Can you talk to us about your inspiration for “Oxum Queen of Waters,” and to which culture she originated? I’m thinking of Oshun (Cuban Santeria), who in one version of her life, is forced into prostitution to feed her children, and subsequently her children are stolen from her. Which part of Oxum’s story are you translating or transmitting here? Here we see her feet in water, mirror in hand, altar behind her–can you talk about the objects flanking her and what they represent?

My painting of Oxum is sort of an amalgam of water and ocean goddesses and their accoutrements. It began with an interesting book titled “Divine Inspiration”, which compared Brazilian religious practices to their African origins. Oxum is seen as a powerful deity who provides a life of wealth and pleasure. She rules over fertility and is the source of children. I have added symbols from other sources as well–such as the Haitian vevers. The rich spiritual heritage that began in Africa and was recreated in our hemisphere is a great source of inspiration and fascination to me.

In “Guardian” we behold a 4-armed figure standing behind the central figure. This painting has a past life feel to it—are those possible incarnations the central figure holds? Or future possibilities? Can you talk to us about the night blossoms, the crown, the hummingbirds, the energy emanating from the hands, what the Guardian might be passing on, what she might say should she speak?

This painting came out of a vision I saw during a guided meditation that was focused on connecting to a guardian or higher self figure. The dark skinned woman in the background is some kind of a healer, spirit or guardian, while the figure in the foreground is a self portrait. The smaller figures–each contained in a bubble like shape are also self portraits from different stages of my childhood and adolescence. The flowers are trumpet flowers, or datura, which is associated with rites of passage and initiation.

In “Lady of Shalott,” we witness a moon ride, flower blooms emanating light, smoke trails like comets, the plume of whale in background, the red slipper of a boat, dreamlike and peaceful. What were the roots of your desire to portray the Lady of Shalott (Tennyson’s poem, musical adaptions such as Loreena McKennitt’s version from The Visit, the Waterhouse image)? Any surprises in process?

“Lady of Shalott” started with the idea of the boat illuminated by the blown glass torches on the bay at night. Some glass blowers I met at a show were making and selling these torches and told me that they had sold some for use on a boat. I loved the idea of that image and the rest developed from there. As it so happened, I was listening to Loreena McKennitt’s song as I was finishing the painting & that is how it was titled. I have always loved Tennyson’s poem and the various Pre-Raphaelite painted versions of the story.

Any insights about your work’s timeline, where is has traveled, where you’d like to see it taking you, in terms of self/spiritual/subject exploration? You also work with sculpture—can you talk about how the mediums you use work together, shape or affect your work? How do you decide which images to cast on ceramics and which on canvas?

My work speaks to the connection of women and nature in the cycles of creation and birth, but with a focus on the larger picture of the earth, and our spiritual path within that world . In my process, I work intuitively and elements are not planned out as to their significance to the greater whole–it is always a mystery and an unfolding.

There is a reason we always refer to “Mother” Nature—and the earth is not Richard, James, or Zeus—but Gaia. The ocean is also referred to as feminine—and fresh water springs in olden times were revered as sacred to the Goddess. Many of those ancient springs later became the sites for cathedrals dedicated to Mary.

Women are deeply connected to earth cycles, the rhythms of nature and anything concerned with the earth, water, animals and plants. Women are part of the creation of life–whereas the male gods in ancient times stood outside of the creation of life. A woman’s ability to bring forth new life was a reason to honor and worship the connection to the greater web of life. In more recent times, it has become a reason to control and manipulate women.

The current work is both painting and pottery. They inspire one another. The work in clay is grounding and satisfying in a primitive and tactile way, whereas the painting is ethereal and mysterious. I go back and forth between the two mediums as the spirit moves me. I usually have several paintings in process at a time–sometimes both acrylic on canvas and gouache on paper. The ceramic process is complicated by clay drying to slowly or quickly and waiting for things to fire, cool etc.

I like having pieces in various stages so I always have something in process to work on. I don’t like to talk specifically about particular pieces that are in process, because I have found that it robs the piece of power. Like an embryo in an eggshell, they need the dark and quiet to develop.

Any words of advice for young artists starting out? Or even seasoned artists trying to stay true to their work?

My advice to artists finding their way would be to work on discovering and developing your authentic self and don’t get discouraged. Find a support system and keep working no matter what.

In her artist’s bio, Christine DeCamp writes:

When I came to California in 1981 I was making sculpture and furniture, primarily using papier mache and mixed media. I participated in many group shows in various venues including SOMA Arts Center, Limn Gallery, San Francisco Airport Galleries and Virginia Breier Gallery. I began painting again in the late 1980’s and joined Gallery Route One in Pt. Reyes, where I had a solo show in 1991. I moved to West Marin and continued to show with GRO, and participate in group shows with the Bolinas Museum and the San Francisco Museum Rental Gallery. I also began showing at the Celebration of Craftswomen, which I continued to do up until 2008.

In 1997, I was one of the founding members of Point Reyes Open Studios, which I participated in from 1997-1998, and then 2005 to the present time. I currently chair the Publicity Committee for PROS. In 1998, I opened a bookstore and gallery in Pt. Reyes called Manfred’s Books. I exhibited and sold my own work there as well as the work of other artists. I had the bookstore and gallery until 2007. Since 2005, I have been participating in various juried art festivals including the KPFA Crafts Fair, the Live Oak Park Fair and other shows in the Bay area.




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