Anna T. Szabó: The Labour Ward
The Labour Ward
Translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri
I walk along the corridor, my tears
falling on the lino floor. The hormones.
In pain, the child inside me moves about.
The womb like a clenched fist pushes him,
squeezes him out.
Borne forward on a wave of mighty forces
I clutch at tables and chairs.
Pain stretches me, spins me, makes me twist.
Let it: I won’t resist.
Animals whelp in their dens. Women, though,
must suffer together. In the labour ward,
babies – through the dark straits,
in mortal strife, to the sound
of a long, drawn-out, polyphonic wail –
Pain’s like a demon, it seeks an object,
seizes you, takes you over, gets to be part of you.
Already you are it:
pulsating and endless – and over in two minutes.
And again it bears you, like water, like the wind.
The language it speaks is barbarous, primeval.
It pours from your mouth, an immemorial wail,
an otherworldly keening.
You cry for him, as well as for his seed,
as your pain pushes him into the world
to feed the thronging demons –
here they are now,
at your gate, waiting.
Bare little slippery snail, do come out.
Your home, it is wailing and tossed all about.
From its door there is pouring a rush of red flame.
Come on out, little snail, come slither in slime!
Oh child, you dead weight, you hot iron, you stone,
come forth now, I beg you, creep out on your own.
You stretch me apart, I am stretching you too.
Slither out now, my faceless one, you!
It pulls you. Thrusts. Stretches. You can do nothing.
Seven hours. It pulls you apart. Keep breathing.
To pray? To curse? Neither one, no.
There’s too much pain. It’s too alien now.
Don’t fight against it, just let go.
This suffering, it isn’t you.
Yet this hour is yours alone:
nobody but you can bear
your child, your son.
I was born for this. I expected it.
The gift of a child – that it might move
in the body’s writhing basket.
From the contracting inner space
I hear on the monitor, his heartbeat.
It pulsates quickly, in fits and starts:
pushing with his head, lunging forward,
widening the exit.
I struggle, panting. I breathe
with my whole body, an air spout.
Oxygen flooding in,
black nothingness floating out.
It hurts, to start with, yet you manage.
It’s bearable… But then it grows,
flows surging through your consciousness,
engrossing everything. It turns
a woman to a wolf that howls.
Her fist clenched on the bedstead,
she’s now in water to her brows,
crying for help, from under water
shouting, screaming silently,
as if her time had all run out –
but now the pain comes in a wave,
rolls over, falls upon itself
and flees – where? Far away – who knows?
A moment’s breath, the grace of a pause.
Good that I’m not alone.
I have support, I’m helped.
My blood is wiped away.
My hands are held, caressed.
There, amid black waves,
I clutch at, gulp the air.
Not yet, not yet, I can’t.
I can hold, just can’t push.
Scared, shipwrecked, on the raft
of my body tossed about,
he clings to the slippery plank:
my child. My baby boy.
The pain’s no longer physical. I am
a basin it has carved out of the earth.
Just movement: can’t be bounded by one place.
It is a raging, elemental force.
Thrusting, he bangs on the door
of the wide world outside, full of air:
a child fighting off destruction
with all his force and fear.
His large head and bony bulk
will pass through the eye of a needle, but,
once they are through, there he just lies –
terrified, fists and eyes