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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Birth mandala, baby poem, and a wee announcement

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I wrote a poem for my friend, the Renaissance woman Dutchbaby, at her request for the occasion of a baby shower for a friend. Dutchbaby introduced me to the idea of birth mandalas, which take Carl Jung's concept of mandalas representing the Self, to the next level: an image for a mother to focus her imagination on the emerging identity of her baby. That's one of Jung's mandalas at the right, which I happened upon after writing the poem, with its image of paisley.

Dutchbaby colored a mandala, below (from online mandala coloring pages), in PhotoShop for her expecting friend, who has Swedish heritage. From it I feel my own connection with Sweden through Grandma Olive. The blue and yellow remind me of tole painting on a pitcher or a barn's peak, or in Carl Larsson's kitchen. Dutchbaby paired my poem with her mandala as a gift to the mom-to-be Saturday. (Bless this baby, oh universe.)




Dutchbaby did not know when she requested the poem that we have our own baby on the way. I am going to be a gramma! And so I offer this poem not only to a friend's friend, but also for my daughter Lesley, and the little poppy seed growing inside her to the great size of a kidney bean at this moment, with webbed feet, a bulging head, and joints in her/his knees. Imagine.

Don and I are over the moon, and no amount of exclamatory punctuation is enough for what I feel, so I used just the one, but picture exclam-infinity. (Bless this baby, oh universe.) How about this photo of them with my nephew's baby, Evangeline? (Bless Eva, too.)


The multi-bonus is that Lesley & Brian are moving to Michigan where he begins a teaching job in the fall (exclam-infinity). We will be close by when baby enters the world (due in January), no need for booking flights at just the right time to NYC. Just hop in the car and drive an hour and a half.

Our son Peter (right, with his sister on her 30th birthday this year) just moved to L.A. to join his band Lord Huron (all the band members are from Michigan). Such is life, the child who lived close moves far away, and the one who lived far away moves close. But we are incredibly excited for Peter and feel, well . . . expectant about this change for him.

Dutchbaby's mandala and my poem are below.

A note about koans (in the poem title): When Dutchbaby told me that the expectant mom said the baby was "sitting like Buddha" in her belly, I decided to shape the poem in koan-like questions. (The image of a sitting Buddha also made me think of paisley.) A koan is a question a Zen sage asks a pupil that does not have an answer from the reasoning mind. A famous koan is: What is the sound of one hand clapping? "The master is not looking for a specific answer but for evidence that the disciple has grasped the state of mind expressed by the kōan itself." More on koans here. Samples of koans at The Gateless Gate. If you listen carefully to the podcast of the poem, you can hear the birds that chirp incessantly outside my office window. Does a bird's song answer the heart's questions?



Koan-like Questions of a Mother to her Unborn Child


Is there something quieter than sleep?
      My whispers circle you like jasmine vine, the way
      my arms want to, when my palm will cup your head,
      my thumb in the shallow petal of your temple.
      Terrace.

Where is the pocket in the nightshirt of early morning?
      You didn’t notice just now that I turned over in bed, rolling
      first onto my right side, then onto my left.
      Leaves everywhere on blue-white cotton.

What shape are you?
      In my teardrop body you sleep, sucking your thumb —
      puzzle piece in the circle of your mouth.
      Paisley baby, paisley thumb,
      paisley me, paisley breast. Lace.

What is grace?
      I pull myself up, like a camel, into a sitting position,
      lean left, push off, grunt, rise, stand, and low into the sway
      of this me, your cradle, creaking at my hips.
      Caravanserai.

Do you remember it, that hymn from the old church
through the window as we slowly climbed the stair?
      Holding the bedpost, carved like an altar,
      my eyes closed, up from the organ
      in my chest the music — unnamed song
      through the vibrating reed of my watery throat.
      Repeat.
      Stained glass moon. Bosphorus.

Can you see me in the dark?
      My hand rests on the olive of your shoulder,
      or is that a heel? Hush, keep sleeping, don’t worry
      about positions. You are touching everything
      in any case.
      Mountain magnolia blossom.



Listen to a podcast of this poem here. (You can hear the birds outside my office window if you listen carefully.)

Poem notes: 

Caravanserai: the fortress-like hostelries for sojourners on the Silk Road.

Bosphorus: the body of water between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul; 'bosphorus' means 'throat' in Turkish; Lesley went to school on the European side, crossing the Bosphorus every morning and evening from and to our home on the Asian side.


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89 comments:

Allison said...

lovely. Thank you and congratulations.

Susan said...

I feel so honored and loved to have known your news before this most wonderful announcement. I am beyond happy for you....you have wished upon a star with every fiber of your being to receive the blessing of a grandchild, and now your wish will come true in a few short months. What a gift you have been given...what a gift is in store for the Little Bean. If the baby only knew what treasures his gramma will bestow upon its beautiful self, he/she would be very impatient to get here.

I can just imagine how rich your poetry will be from now on. This one is just the beginning.

steven said...

there's so much joy here ruth and congratulations and thankfulness for your happiness are all i have to share in return. thankyou for sharing the wealth of your world. steven

Patricia said...

First, a hug for all of this good news! Second, cheers to both you and Dutchbaby for such an inventive way to honor such a special occasion.
Third, I am knocked out by the concept of shape...your poetry knocked me out there.
Cheers.

Ruth said...

Thanks so much, Allison.

Ruth said...

Susie, your words are the absolute sweetest, my friend. You know how much I've dreamed, yes. What is it, that makes me want to start again, to see a new being try out this life thing? My own flesh and blood.

Do you know? L & B already told me they want me to record poems for poppy seed, so they can play them for her/him. A whole new genre for me, poems I will write and read to our new baby. I can hardly wait.

Leena said...

I felt it, I really felt it just today I came and visit your blog after so long time and what news I can see here !!
I am so happy for you and your family, I will put this tiny "poppy seed" to my evening prayers.
Melissa will be four next month and Mikael is now 1year 7months. He has been singing and speaking before he could walk, Peter certainly could take him to his band for a soloist singer :)

You will have such a feelings you never could imagine, I wish all the best to all of you!!

Ruth said...

Steven, your congratulations and thankfulness feel abundant in my full heart. Thank you.

Louise Gallagher said...

Ah Ruth! Hugs

This isn't just a wee announcement, it's life creationg, life changing, life giving. It is life, and your poem is a celebration of all that is life.

I love the mandala idea and how you've both come together to create it -- what a beautiful and affirming gift.

I shall hold all of you in my prayers.

Namaste.

Ruth said...

Patricia, thank you for that warm hug, and your cheers. I'm glad you felt the shapeness thing here, because I felt myself morphing as I wrote ...

lesleyanne said...

such a beautiful poem, my dear poet mother. and just think, you will be seeing your grandbaby all the time and can read him/her your poems yourself!! we were thinking of recording them before we knew we would be living in Michigan, what a joy.

such lovely comments too! we are so excited!!
love with all my heart.

Maureen said...

What exciting news, Ruth. Your poems will be such a lovely gift; the words will be keepsakes, their sounds sweet music.


. . . No one knows
the source of joy. A poet breathes

into a reed flute, and the tip of
every hair makes music. . . .
~ "The Source of Joy", Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks

Ruth said...

Dear, sweet Leena, oh it's been too long, and here you are, on the day of my announcement. Can it be almost four years since I celebrated Melissa's arrival with you? I was just noticing it is almost her birthday, but fourth?? And her brother getting so big and noisy. :-) I will tell Peter to keep an ear out for him.

I have already had such feelings I could not have imagined, even before we had this news. Everything in me has been thinking of mothering/grandmothering. You are my model, I've watched you from afar with relish.

Thank you for your greetings!

George said...

Congratulations, Ruth! Your joy is mine. Your poem is magnificent in both its structure and its imagery. I don't think this is the last poem to be inspired by your newfound joy.

Ruth said...

Louise, thank you for sharing our joy! The "wee" was reflecting the size of the new life, not its presence in me. :-)

I really think Dutchbaby's gift of a birth mandala is imaginative. Mandalas have a center, and from that all life reaches out. So fitting.

Thank you so much for your prayers.

Ruth said...

Darling Lesley, yes, I will speak poems to poppy seed (imagine, her/his sweet-smelling head under my nose). I think I will still record some though, for when I am not there to tuck her/him in.

Heart bursting.

Ruth said...

Maureen, ohh, you give me Rumi this morning, about the source of joy. His words do make hairs rise in goosebumps, don't they? Infinite joy.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Thank you, George! You sharing our joy makes my heart even fuller, and soon it's going to burst. I believe you are right about poems inspired by this new being. And I'm excited to think of writing poems that the child will hear and read, written specifically for her/him. How fun is that?

Bonnie said...

Oh Ruth - what exciting news. Your joy is palpable. New life truly ignites the creativity in all who are fortunate enough to bear witness.

Shari Sunday said...

Ruth, I knew it as soon as I saw the title of your post. CONGRATULATIONS! I am so happy for you and the little soul that will become part of your family. I loved the poem and the idea of a mandala. I look forward to sharing the progress.

Margaret said...

New life, new creativity ... I am sure love will be transformed into beautiful art that you will share here with us and everyone will be richer! I am so excited for your son spreading his wings!!! and your daughter flying back closer to "home". I am truly happy for you and can feel your joy!

Dee Dee said...

Dearest Ruth and Lesley, I can't stop my tear of joy while reading today's post. Welcome my dear niece to the joy of motherhood and on the behalf of all "grand mothers" welcome the most beautiful and talented one to our most blessed world, Ruthie!

Lilith said...

This poem reminds me of a pregnancy, expectant, looking inwards. Lovely.

Congrats on becoming a grandma.

Ruth said...

Bonnie, I am more aware as a gramma than I was as a momma, and maybe that is one reason people relish it so much. I do hope the new light of this life will inspire many. Oh, it brings tears to think of that.

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Shari, isn't it the best? You have gone before me, and I have watched with longing as you share your experiences with your grandkids. Thank you for sharing them, and now mine, with me.

Ruth said...

Margaret, I've had a statement on my sidebar for a while now: Inspiration is the spark from the bonfire of love and feel it expanding. Our kids just open up whole new worlds, and witnessing them at this juncture now is blowing me away. Thank you so much for feeling it with me!

Ruth said...

Oh my sweet Dee Dee, I won't stop my tears if you don't stop yours. You've been showing me what a loving grandma is since Gavin was born. Now you have four, can you believe it? You are way too wonderful with your words. I love you.

Ruth said...

Lilith, thank you for reading the poem, and for feeling the inner feel of it. What a world it is, to be pregnant. I just feel lost in the mystery. Thank you for your kind congratulations.

Vagabonde said...

What a wonderful news, congratulations to your daughter and son-in-law. It certainly is great that they are coming close to you. I always felt guilty that my parents in France did not see their granddaughters often. The combination of colors in the mandala work very well. I like the idea of a birth mandala. That was a very joyful post.

Grandmother said...

Bless these babies, oh universe. What is grace? It's writing such a heart felt poem speaking the unknowable mysteries of this most amazing life event. Bless you, bless them. As for your impending grandmotherhood- congratulations and be prepared to fall utterly in love!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Vagabonde, these are happy times, and with some sadness about Peter moving away, though we know it is for the best. We, too, moved away, first to California, where our kids were born, then when they were still small we moved to Istanbul. It must have been hard for both our parents, but we did not realize then what we would now.

Ruth said...

Mary, your moniker says it all, about how you feel about this event.

I am already in love. What can I be in love with? I think it is more than just an idea, but I would be hard pressed to explain it.

So I'll look for other ways to express it.

Thank you.

hedgewitch said...

Wonderful news, Ruth. There is something very liberating in the totally unique relationship of parent's parent to child. My own childhood would have been barren indeed without my grandparents' gift of love like no other, truly selfless. I love your celebration of the occasion and the intriguing questions you've devised to make us see it--esp like '...Where is the pocket in the nightshirt of early morning?" Now *that* is a koan. ;_)

Fresh Garden said...

Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful!

California Girl said...

Congratulations Ruth! This is your daughter for whom you threw the beautiful wedding at home a few years ago? Awesome news. You've also given me a subject to write about today as it's my eldest son's 24th birthday.

Friko said...

I don't know what to say except that I am glad for you and your daughter. Your poem is beautiful and brings joy to all who expect or welcome new life.

My very best wishes for a joyful future.

Miss Jane said...

Wonderful news! Blessings on you all!
The poem is so beautiful. Your heart is overflowing and it colors your words. Bosporus, indeed. I can hear and feel the flow of the water in the womb and throat.

Brendan said...

Just when you are finding gears and depths you hadn't written before, this pregnancy, this poem, this whole extra dimension of heart: My, what work you will have to do, recording the full magnitude of a mother watching a daughter become a mother and finding all the old emotional plumbing intact. Congrats on the news and quiet applause (so as not to wake its subject) on this poem. - Brendan

freefalling said...

HOORAY! HOORAY! HORRAY!
How exciting!
I'm excited!
AND....they're moving closer!
What a most wonderful, thrilling time for you all.
One more - HOORAY!

Ruth said...

Hedgewitch, thank you for the gift of the sight of a relationship with grandparents, with love and closeness, something I did not have. I did not know any grandparent, though I had a step-grandpa who was a wonder, but with only a handful of meetings that left me longing, longing. I suspect that chasm is one reason this life is leaping so deeply in me.

Yes, I imagine that pocket of comfort is not easily found, either for the mother-to-be, the poet, or the reader. :-)

Ruth said...

Thanks, Fresh Garden. :-)

Ruth said...

California Girl, thank you! Yes, Lesley was married almost two years ago here on the farm.

Happy 24th birthday to your son!

Ruth said...

Friko, you being glad for us is plenty, and I thank you for it and your best wishes.

Ruth said...

Ah, Miss Jane, thanks for that.

I'm floating and gloating and bloated in this water.

Ruth said...

Brendan, thanks. It has felt like something was building toward this, hasn't it? And from here, I guess I'd better hold on tight for the ride.

Ruth said...

Letty, I hear you, I hear you! Thank you for being so wonderfully happy!

ds said...

What is grace?
This poppy seed, this poem, this marvelous continuance of generations, this joy. Joy. JOY (exclaminfinity)
:D

rosaria said...

Oh Ruth, so much love and strands of universal greetings and blessings in this poem. So much love in your entire post, the reaching out and touching your children and their children, in a great big hug. What a great feeling of circling around a newborn you have created here, circling around new life. Blessings to all of you.

Old 333 said...

Babies everywhere! Makes a fellow feel old, and happy.

erin said...

reading aloud now somewhere deeper than my voice, somewhere wet and thick and used twice before for seed, often enough for sanctity, i see a snake eating his tail and i smell spring. and then it comes as though a rock from water, the mandala again. we can not help it, we women, we water creatures, we can not help but feel the rythms of birth. we are mothers even when we're barren. when we're barren we stand by and beat the drum.

i love this poem, ruth. as i pass from being mother, my children just now pushing their legs past child stage, i feel in the long grass for the drum, to become, bum-bum, gramma. it surprises me, this lust for new life. if i weren't tied in knots i'm sure i would be beating other drums, planting other seeds.

congratulations on your new state of motherhood. it is awfully grace-full.

xo
erin

Loring Wirbel said...

Stunning, beyond lovely, and congratulations!!

Oliag said...

I find it amazing in a wonderful way that I can feel so much joy for a friend that I have never actually met! What a joyful post...How lucky that baby will being born into so much love and beauty.

Wonderful news! Wonderful poem gift!

Amy@Souldipper said...

Ruth, no other response has a chance. Only this will come:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo1x-62WmrI

Ruth said...

My dear DS, thank you for that bold smile, that demonstrates your enthusiasm and shared joy. Thank you, thank you.

Ruth said...

Rosaria, thank you for recognizing and feeling all that here. You know how meeting a new person is an open door into a new room? This is that, and the room is here in me, like never before.

Ruth said...

Peter, I love your comment. :-)

Ruth said...

Erin, you don't know how I rely on you to read my poems in your depths, and to offer them back out of your body. It is truly a gift to me, and I am very grateful for it. I love those first lines, and as though a rock from water, which is one of my favorite physical images. I have petoskey stones (do you know them, maybe they are the stones you threw under the bridge), and I have them in the birdbath, because I want to see their spots, which are not so visible when they are dry. But, they are still there, and I know it.

I so agree with you about women, all of us being mothers. Though I am 'barren' now (what a word, that is so far from what I feel, right?), I've never felt more fertile, even before this news. My sweet earth-friend, "lust" is the perfect word for what I feel for this child, and have felt, almost as if I am creating a new being, am part of the new creation. It's like nothing, ever. The feeling, and the being. Imagining her/him, as totally unlike anyone who has ever breathed before, is more profound and overwhelming than what I can contain. I feel even more giddy that you witness this with me. Thank you for you.

Ruth said...

Loring, thanks!!

Ruth said...

Oliag, thank you so much, my friend. I've taken such pleasure in your grandkids, and you know this. Having this joy returned by you is even more pleasure!

Ruth said...

Amy, so perfect. I had not thought of the Magnificat yet, but how right the words feel, My soul magnifies the Lord . . . . Or did you think of it because of the percussionist's single drum beats (see Erin's comment), or maybe the oboists puffing cheeks? Or was it the singers, rhapsodic. It might have been JS Bach's magnificence. But I'm pretty sure what made you share this YouTube video is because of Ton Koopman's joyful and inimitable conducting, the only possible outlet for this joy, to use one's hands to direct and guide all those singers and musicians in an explosion of joy!

Stratoz said...

Birth Mandalas, now how cool is that. Prayers of hope and joy to the expecting parents (and grandparents).

Julie said...

Ruth, talk about timing , I just got back from daughters and I have a beautiful grandaughter, Carley, everyone is healthy and fine. Her big brother Cole is proud as can be.
Congratulations to you ! I enjoyed this post very much! Julie in Holland :)

Grandmother said...

A further thought: What is grace? I read once that when we carry our daughters they already have all their eggs in their ovaries in utero. So you carried your future grandchild. It speaks to the strength of our bond to them.

Ginnie said...

I LOVE the synchronicity of the DB commission with the news from Lesley, Sister. Look how all of it just fits together. This is so sweet. And I had no idea you could get free mandala designs online. I've been coloring them for years from my own coloring books, so this is a special treat for me today. Thank you. :)

ellen abbott said...

oh, congratulations. being a gramma is wonderful.

rauf said...

the post is bursting with joy, you bring joy not only to your family but to all your readers, we are a huge family Ruth

Dutchbaby said...

My dearest Ruth,
I can not conjure the words to describe how deeply honored I am that you accepted this challenge and met it with all your heart and soul. I can feel your bursting anticipation radiating from this post. Congratulations to Lesley and Brian and also to you and Don.

Amy@Souldipper said...

Look at all you have pulled from Bach's beautiful piece of music, Ruth. Yes, yes and yes.

The Magnificat played in my head as I read through your expression of deep joy, pregnancy, cousins, family and underpinnings of seasoned faith.

I wallow in the femaleness of the Magnificat - of Mary and Elizabeth sharing a depth of spirit that seeded a love far beyond themselves.

I'm so glad you mentioned Tom Koopman. He was Ruth to the very tip of his baton.

Happy Grandmother-Unfolding.

The Bug said...

Congratulations to all of you! I love the synchronicity of being asked for a poem and being given a baby - sweet!

Pat said...

You never cease to amaze me with your talent. You have such inner AND outer beauty. This poem was beautiful and so moving.

Congratulations on the Grandma-to-be front!

Ruth said...

Stratoz, it's a beautiful challenge, isn't it? To imagine the emerging soul this way, from the center of the mother's soul (and father's, and grandparents', . . .).

Ruth said...

Julie, congratulations on the happy, healthy birth of your granddaughter! And thank you for yours to us. I am entering the world of grandparenting! It still hasn't quite sunk in.

Ruth said...

Mary, oh wow, shivers. What a mystery, and no wonder I recognized poppy seed when I "met" him/her in May.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Boots. I did think of you when DB told me about the coloring mandalas. :-)

I hope your birth day yesterday was wonderful, I loved your posts.

Ruth said...

Ellen, I have quietly relished when you've shared about your grandchildren. I remember you recounting a weekend (or week) they stayed with you, and that one of the joys of grandparenting is that you get to send them home. Yep. :-)

Ruth said...

rauf, it's true, we are a family, and you are my brother. Oh rauf! You're going to be Uncle Rauf! You must teach me how to say that in Urdu.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, I am the one who feels indebted to you for your request, since writing this poem has expanded the breadth and depth of emotion and connection with our baby. It was a joy to share in Kari's expectancy, a sort of specificity in the universality of this mothering thing. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Amy, it gives me tingles to listen to it again now, reading your words, and knowing it was playing in your head while you read this.

Oh yes, what you've added to my litany: the femaleness of it, the friends who shared that wonder and hope.

Koopman's expressiveness, especially the way he mouths the song as he directs the singers, it's just the perfect parallel with me mouthing this poem and you singing it back in this chorus.

You could not have told me I would feel this way about becoming a grandmother when I was young. I had no grandparents I knew, just one step-grandpa who was a dream grandpa, but I only met him half a dozen times.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Dana for your congratulations!

Ruth said...

Pat, thank you for such kind words, you touch me.

And that photo of Lily in the car sleeping at your blog just sent me. Little sunglasses. Oh man! Isn't it incredible how long it takes for human babies/children to grow to adulthood, compared to the rest of the animals?

OceanoAzul.Sonhos said...

Ruth, i love happy families. The emotional balance is very important in our lives.
Congratulations :)
oa.s

Terresa said...

Blessings to the beautiful baby!!

Jeanie said...

OK, way too much in here! And you know I find the mandala fascinating (we were talking this weekend about your poetry -- all good.)

NOW, Lesley is moving here and you're in the family way? Or she is?! EL or elsewhere? Tell me more -- we must picnic soon!

And I had NO idea Peter was part of Lord Huron. Ben's mom and dad are good friends of mine and I love their work. (Lord Huron's -- well, Sharon and John's too, for that matter!) Oh, the wonderful things you learn reading blogs. I can see why you'll miss him so -- but oh, how very proud you must be. I think we can empathize, as you said in my comment, on that one.

Peter said...

So much nice and positive in this rich post; don't know what to say really - except of course congratulations and best wishes!

Also pleased to see you mention Carl Larsson. You know that you can visit his home, still family owned? The school I attended for eight years has a large wall painting by him in the "aula" where we had a 15 minutes morning session every day, before classes!

Jill of All Trades said...

Wonderful. Congratulations. I hope to hear those words someday myself.

Mrs. M. said...

This is so exciting!! What fun for you all, and our extended family as well!! I'm jealous of Katy and Emma so close, yet again!!!

deb colarossi said...

I'm struggling to find the deep .
I'm squealing.
I've spent the day wondering how it is that someone we don't really know can die suddenly and it's like falling into a dark hole when we were just walking along..
and how we can hear about a life and it's like
the stars just outside of the void , shining yes. this.
now.
love
you

Claudia said...

Congratulations and best wishes, dear Ruth!

Sandy said...

Ruth- A NEW BABY!!! I had no idea. congratulations...I imagine you are so thrilled. I will be back to follow along on any updates. I've missed so much not getting around to coming here I've hardly visited blogs in the last six months.