The sleeping child
Few sensations are more satisfying than feeling an infant fall asleep in your arms. It is both a tribute to the trust placed in you by child and an achievement of calm within your body.
That’s the background to this sliver of time carved out from an afternoon of being with Grace. She has played on her mat touching soft figures with her fingers while chewing her soother. Her teeth are at her. They haven’t yet broken through.
I have perhaps 40 minutes in which to address the year.
The journey began in January made cold by depression.
Two secrets lay with pressure at the heart of the new year:
We were to have a baby and it was too soon to reveal,
too early to celebrate, but not to seal the drink.
Profound gloom gripped my every artery, flowed
freely from a well of loneliness that never dried.
The shadowside had returned and taken over
robbing me of the capacity to uncork the joy of girl or boy.
Unfit for work that month, my memory let pass each day
without recording the slightest smile: what was worthwhile
in the time? How was the pregnancy to be seen
with energy? How was the man to rise to the occasion
when what was at stake was for a lifetime?
Fearfully, untearfully, I slipped back to the office in February.
Five weeks before I screamed without sound,
before I burst without breaking.
I threw a self on the mercy of my beloved.
She held me, firm throughout March. The doctors too.
Together we broke the news by telephone to family:
we were expecting a baby. It was our greatest joy.
So we wished for another surprise and called it Itsy,
rather than learning the gender, we took the scan
and made an altar by the bedside. It was still
freezing. But the thaw began and never let up.
In Seville there are little girls in long dresses
striding along narrow streets in the old Jewish quarter.
Vibrant yellow, flourishing pink, you would think
a bunker of golfers had come to admire the Spring.
I had begun to sing a melody only I could hear
while the unflown tears were finally dry. Back
from the rack, as training manager again, I began
“A diary for Itsy” before the rising of the birds.
Dawn broke, sun light across the Moravian Church
Blossom Cottage bloomed, our wee treasure sprouted.
Her conception celebrated in song, verse and sandcastles.
I remembered Kilkee, the picnics by the sea, periwinkles
and short bent pins for scooping slimey shellfish out.
Cobblers in the Pollock Holes. Rackets and swimming in salt.
Bit by bit I painted warm colours all over my childhood.
Unknown to me, I was getting ready to go home.
June came bringing the prospect of redundancy
and the re-discovery of Jimmy Webb, uncovering
David Whyte and poppies by the road to Oxford.
I sat with Marie while ducks played past the flag iris.
We talked of generations and making fun in Cork.
We imagined what the stork would bring.
There was time to sing when July arrived:
two job offers for Edel, a ticket to move.
Grace flooded out onto the Royal United Hospital maternity bed,
Thirteen hours and thirty minutes after the first contraction.
Violetta her middle name and she wide awake
For her sake I had dipped into “The Bloke’s Guide to Pregnancy”
swatted up on nappy re-cycling, and bought a Stokke Sleepi.
She blew away the luxury of sleep and fed her way into our lives.
She was a fragile bundle of need we had to feed, and slowly
the puzzling for patterns predominated. Grace made her own space.
I left the job and went to work with my two wonderful women
slipping easily from Bristol city buses to domesticity
revelling in the art of slinging her up the Cotswold Way
or round the Circus, up Milsom Street, even past the Crescent.
There was Cork waiting with its harbour, taking newcomers
into Douglas. The present is a strange land and I am ill
prepared. An innocent abroad in those native hands,
ready to stand on my head to fit in suburban woods.
There goes the year, you know it well.
It had a fistful of stories to tell.