Giving Birth

by Patrick Hansel

Graciela Echenique, age 16
Lafourche Parish, Louisiana
June 16, 1919

They say childbirth is a curse
Laid upon women by Eve’s sin,
But I say that was written
By a man who did not understand
His own life. Women scream
In birthing for the pain, but their
Desire is not for their husbands
At that moment, but a calling
Back through the generations
To the first ones. The ones
Who knew the earth as friend,
As breast and hip and blood.
The ones who speak not in words
But in the stirring of leaves,
In the pulsing of sap through
The spring woods. You cannot
Learn giving birth from a book,
From a sermon or a lecture given
By a man standing on a box.
You cannot learn love that way.
You have to feel the child
Pulling back to a long line
Of wisdom as it pushes out
Into air. Women make good
Widows when their men die,
For they have lived through
The groaning of their creations,
The loss of their flesh and milk
As their child grows into walking,
Into words and tools and song.
I saw my mother give birth
Three times: once to my younger
Sister, once to a child born
Without a name and without breath,
Who we gave back to the earth,
And once to me, my head crowning,
My eyes wide, my mouth creasing
Open to light and air and noise.
You say that I cannot remember that?
I say that was spoken by a man
Who does not understand that
Memory is not something we choose.
It is a gift, given by those
Who surround us, who bequeath
Our first pain and our first joy,
Persons we thank when our time comes,
Who never stop dying for our life.

Musical composition by Victor David Sandiego

Patrick Hansel has published poems in over 20 journals and anthologies, including Hawai’i Pacific Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Passager, The Ilanot Review and The Meadowland Review. He was selected for the 2008-09 Mentor Series in Poetry at the Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, and was a 2011 Minnesota State Arts Board Grantee. His novella Searching was serialized in 33 issues of The Alley News.