The Common Ground of Emotion under Adversity: Witness/Father/Poet Christopher Flowers on “Ultrasound” and “Skull Tectonics”

Skull Tectonics artfully captures the nuances of the mind/body tangle inside a father-to-be, and the challenges of being a passive witness: “I, shuffling nervously in scrubs / and surgical mask, clenched / (fists, molars, memories) / outside / cool-tiled room.” Can you speak to these particular lines, as well as talk about the process of writing this poem? (What a fabulous aside, in parentheses—-“fists, molars, memories”)…

I think one of the things that really took me by surprise about the delivery process is how quickly things can turn from calm and joyous to tense and, to a certain degree, brooding.  My wife was in the process of giving birth when it was determined that our son’s head was turned at an awkward angle and thus could not fit through her pelvis.

The doctor on call ordered a C-section.  Before either of us knew what was going on, my wife was being wheeled out of her maternity quarters and into an operating room.  A nurse appeared, presented with me a set of scrubs that were two sizes too large, and told me to change as fast as I could.

As you’d imagine, I was a nervous wreck.  My wife, however, remained calm.  She smiled between contractions and told me she’d see me very soon.  I waited outside of the OR for about half an hour as people dressed in very sterile outfits entered and left the room.  During that time, my brain turned into a cluster bomb.  I couldn’t help but think of my wife’s health and the fact that we’d been married only five years.  What would I do if something happened to her?  What if something happened to Jonah (our son-to-be)?  The realization that we were both about to be forever changed (and I’ll leave “changed” purposely abstract) started to weigh down on me like it never had in the preceding nine months.

When I refer to “fists” and “molars” in these particular lines, I was trying to pinpoint the acute physical sensations that seemed to be prominent during this waiting period.  I distinctly remember wringing my hands in an effort to calm down, and, as I’ve done for some time, I began to grind my teeth in anticipation of what was to come.  At the risk of sounding somewhat cliche, it was a strange combination of terror and elation that enveloped me all at once.

I decided to have “outside” exist as its own line to try and mimic the sense of helplessness and isolation that permeated just about everything during that agonizing half hour.

Can you talk about writing “ultrasound” (with its haunting imagery—“ethereal storm”, etc)—something experienced by a female body, as a male poet? Any surprises in writing process or inspiration?

“Ultrasound” is one of the most difficult poems I’ve ever written.  The subject matter, of course, is emotionally draining, but it was one of those cathartic endeavors that I knew had to be endured.

After my wife and I experienced a miscarriage with our first pregnancy, I tried to find something concrete with which to compare the utterly devastating ultrasound images we were presented with during our first doctor’s visit.  I remember thinking that the black picture on the screen reminded me of a black hole (an image that, in and of itself, is the very definition of destruction), but the calm, smooth contours that existed outside of our never-to-be-developed child reminded me more of what we see on The Weather Channel.  I then understood that, like a hurricane, a terrible storm of pain was about to descend on us.  Sometime after having sifted through the emotions associated with this experience,  I sat down and tried to determine what sort of “weather” imagery would best represent what we both saw that day.

As a man, I feel that I’m often motivated by a desire to physically engage with things that cause problems–in short, to try and find solutions in a hands on way.  With what was happening inside my wife, there was nothing I could do, and it was a very emasculating thing.  Like the weather, I literally had no control over the outcome of the pregnancy, and the understanding that that’s how it’d always be was simultaneously infuriating and enlightening.

After this first experience with pregnancy, I was reminded that God is in control of everything.  I was also reminded that my wife and I are both human, and that our emotions, as odd as it may sound, are often strikingly similar.  Among other things, this has helped me better understand the trials she faces in a way that I’d never expected (and this helped me better understand the wide range of obstacles she faced with the recent birth of our son).

Any topic in the arena of birth, labor, fertility, etc, you’d like to see male poets undertaking, addressing? (Or female poets, for that matter)?

In a general sense, I’d love to see men try to shift their point of view as often as possible.  I’ll never be able to fully understand my wife in just the same way that she’ll never be able to think in the way that I do, but I’ve found that writing about these sorts of experiences is one of the best ways to learn  a little bit about what you thought you already knew (as confusing as that sounds).

Writing projects in the works you’d like to share with us?

I’m currently working on a chapbook structured around the imagery of the cosmos.  It’s been a fun project, as all sorts of unexpected themes and revelations have manifested themselves over the year or so I’ve been organizing the poems.  I’m excited about the direction the final product is headed in, and hope to have it completed in the coming months.

Questions or subjects you see yourself chasing down in your own work in the future?

Who knows.  My desire is to stare down all sorts of unpredictable things, because, in my experience, this tends to lead to the most poignant reflection.  As someone just entering parenthood, I’m expecting the unknown to pretty much define my existence.

And that’s a very good thing.

Social Widgets powered by