© BIRTHRITE By Dick Croy
Grandmom had died. I lay streaming in music, pendulum rocking, outside of gravity. Feel this; apperceive it in the hands, supplicational. And finally the images came. A little girl, barefoot, blown madly through high grass, over green lawns cropped and damp, like lettuce to the footsoles. Minnesota. Open, exuberant, a young land upsloping, horizon measured with outflung embracing arms. Grandmom had been chased -- no, had run from footsteps innocent of harmful intention. Boy with a crush, daring and shy, followed her locked into step half a block back, crowded by nectarous tumescent emotions, and night, against a childhood in rout. Then she rrannnn.... A year younger and there'd have been no boy; just she, and in her bosom the bursting blossom of... in a field. She'd have whinnied, hands soaring like tethered birds; grass or grain whipping against her flushed cheeks until, thrilling with her strength, agility, she touched down each step on hills which sprang out of the hot, level and fecund ground with a whir of insects' wings to vibrate against the balls of her feet. And she clutching as if between chin and breast the burst, the flare of the summer days turned to nectar in her throat. What did they call her? Dan Patch, the name of a popular racehorse.
How many times had she repeated that story? Listening to it as a kid, I'd pictured her lonely then, unattractive, maybe a little skinny or bucktoothed. The girls I went for would never have thought such a story worth retelling down through the decades. It was the nickname that greeted her Monday morning at school that pleased her most to recall. I had seen that image as grey, or in darkened streets, beyond the pools of light under windows on the glossy surface of night lawns. But the new image that night was green, overwhelmingly green; and a little girl as wild as Heathcliff's Kathy. With the same aura of distance, but speaking to me of a joy in living as immediate as that instant of seeing green about flashing ankles. Progenitor: this speck on the massive plains of a young land at the juncture of centuries. Two planes, infinite, blue and green, intersected always miles and miles from where she stood. At times an intimation, slight, quivering and then gone, of her minuteness in this vast sweep and receding of sky and land. Her head a bobbing point on the surface of an ocean which curved and curved until it met itself.... Saffron mists drifted in shards over the strange shimmering lands, farther, further, from Minnesota than she could imagine. But the wave comes in...then goes out. If the centuries unroll as far from her lifetime as they spent building, and cresting, to lift her, foaming, into the sunlight, she – barefooted summertime lass – A will have been the fountainhead of a race. See the 9, or 10, or 12 year old girl: thin, brown, legs scratched and scabbed,
perhaps already a look in those urchin's eyes though as yet they invite only play and laughter. See her legs spread; and from her loins a race of men. Men, women and progeny, tumultuous but ordered as generation. World builders, inheritors of civilization: her issue, all from her womb, the recurrence of successive generations like deliberate, mighty contractions.
Sue sleeps between hers towards the end, seconds at a time. Catherine's sea journey nearing its end. Around us the city awakes as in...slow...majestic spiral she pivots past symphysis pubis, kneading her clayey head for passage. Her mother lies as if languorously afloat on rippling water, her limp forearms white as the clean supple bellies of fish. Night has drunk off like a broth her small store of energy hoarded these last two months, tilting tureen to mouth, swallowing methodically, insatiably, the draughts deep as her ancient roots in the earth: gliding...rolling...temblors across her body. Monolithic, impervious in this tidal oscillation: resolution – in these hours a sort of marrow in woman's psyche. As her body, calmed and reassured, buoyantly rides the night's building waves, resolution nourishes her mind. Both of us trust the tillerman. Into the wind he holds her course. Into her lungs, into her rushing blood, into the lungs
of her uterus blows that cleansing breath. Blue and chill, expended, ebbs its reciprocal. I time her contractions with a stopwatch. Hover my gentling hands like doves or wands over muscles lost from her will, constricting in terror at the relentless advance of this sea. She pants, effleurages, falls back in exhaustion, signals the birth of a new wave with a deep cleansing breath. Occasionally I drape a damp cloth over her face, trying to be so healing as to mold the compress not against features but, light-ly, on the surface of heat on her face, leaving the flushed skin untouched. She labors in silence. I am her handmaiden only. She is valiant, in the teeth and throughout the endless waning of night. Catherine is still unknown to us – to me. Yet the three of us whirl about some center point in intersecting orbits of dazzling complexity and incomprehensible velocity. Catherine knows Susan, a part of her she'll never know. From the core of darkness will come dawn, involuted, night turned upon itself. I've read a Lamaze partner's tribute to the savage glory of his wife's birth screams as she pushed her baby into the light. EXULTATION Rrripped its talons from her womb, beat its glorious brutal wings and ascended from the mouth of her body, being, to the sun. ...Sue, an hour and a half from complete dilation, lies in another part of the helix, as if beneath the awful weight of what is about to happen.
Her voice is crushed marble, each fragment the artifact of a civilization brilliant, enduring in eclipse: "Dick, please help me!" Ritualistic, not beseeching; esoterica in a passion play. I? Only an acolyte: humbled, exalted. Not the words but their echo – cyclic tremor on listening waters, widening circles like arms unfolding to encompass...all – arrests me. Sue sweeps on up the spiral while I...gaze long at that still water, those concentric waves. The urge to push! She blows to suppress it. (Where has she traveled?) I call the nurse: "8 centimeters." Does Catherine notice the change? Surely she must have. Driven from the pistoning uterus, her face flattened against spine, submitting to instinct, she hears with her body the wind of the voyage. Perhaps like the sirens' song from behind them, in a cavern, sinuous and interminable, which deepens their wail, makes it resonant in the rock, loud and mournful as all Aeolus's lachrymose winds. Through the vagina, halls wrung with weeping for beauty of the pulse. Fleas' eggs, the birth of suns. I know those slippery walls that glovingly squeeze you forward. Epithelial labyrinth peristaltically breathing; muscular embrace with the fathoms-deep pressure of seminal seas.
I entered in part, you emerge whole. A going in and a coming out, the vortex become vertex. Mother and child labor in unison – man an observer, awed. To push! Body demands birth. Blow! Blow! Resolution cries Blow – can't push and blow at the same time. Resolution wavering. She says, "Call the nurse." Commands it. Exhausted, alarmed, but in control. "Do you know how to push? Let me see you." (What's that protruding?) "Is it crowning? Let's get you to the delivery room. Doctor's on his way." "Can my husband?...." They're gone. The room seems to sag inward, spent. I walk down the hall to the waiting room.
Sue triumphed. Natural childbirth; joy and exhilaration never before dreamed of. How much more than Catherine will ever realize is she her mother's daughter? Oh, Grandmother!