-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 waymy 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, rollingfirst 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 swayof this me, your cradle, creaking at my hips.Caravanserai.
Do you remember it, that hymn from the old churchthrough the window as we slowly climbed the stair?Holding the bedpost, carved like an altar,my eyes closed, up from the organin my chest the music — unnamed songthrough 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 worryabout positions. You are touching everythingin 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.)
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.