Poem for Poetry Thursday

The Small Plans

You won't remember this.
Not the shallow breathing and gray lips.
Not the vomit. Not the milk
that overtook you like a breached levee.
Remember nothing.
Not your heart.
Your heart.
A hymn beating so faintly.
Not the midnight emergency visit or the staff
of fifteen swelling to save your little life.
Not the incision, your line of demarcation.
Not your muscles working against each other,
despite each other.
Forget coarctation.
Forget the tubes, the I-Vs,
the doctors with their bad jokes,
the nurses with their latexed hands.
Not your father feeding you sugar water
with a cotton swab, or your mother
kissing your lips pursed tight as a clasp,
those perfect lips God gave you.
Is it true He doesn't give you more than you can bear?
Forget I asked.
Forget Him.
Forget the small plans we have for today,
watching you vanish and reappear
in the space of my hands.
You, who have been blessed by pain,
forget your first two weeks of life.

It's Poetry Thursday--my favorite day of the week.

"The Small Plans" is a poem I wrote for my daughter Ella sometime at the end of last year. In August 2005, two weeks after she was born, Ella was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called a coartation of the aorta. She had surgery immediately after it was detected, and I'm happy to say that my good-as-new baby will celebrate her first birthday in August! (Woo Hoo!)

So, I wanted to write a piece that captured the experience as much as a poem can. Ella's ordeal was so intense that I still can't shake it from my being. But I do have enough distance from the poem that I can discuss it critically.

Ultimately, I think words fail the poem. Yet, I'm left to wonder if the words are failing or if it's me who has failed the poem, and the experience expressed in the poem. Being out of the moment made it easier to be a bit more journalistic in my approach to writing about it.

From a technical perspective, I don't know if the prayer element coupled with the rhythm works completely. But writing down the experience makes me feel as though I have controled that particular moment after the fact. I guess that's how I feel about all of my pieces. Time and distance can work miracles in the realm of the poetic.

*And where the f*^% is my audioblogger post?*

(FYI, I decided not to go into too much detail about coarctation now. But I will incorporate more detail into a post closer to Ella's first birthday.)


Deirdre said…
It works. Beautifully.
Writer Bug said…
I agree with deidre. This poem gave me chills. I particularly like the surprise of her lips closed tight as clasps (as opposed to the cliched clams) and "Forget I asked. Forget Him." Powerful stuff!
Jim Brock said…

An amazing prayer, sister.
Ouch...this my favorite of the two you posted today. There is something so alive in this poem, even as it skirts death. I love the direct address to the child...personalizes it, electrifies it. I'm responding as a mother who's had a sick child and knows that pain, but also as a reader who fell into these words on their strength alone.
vicci said…
This is really beautiful!!!!
claireylove said…
Your words here paint such a tender, painful picture
not of an-almost-loss but of a-loss-reinstated.
Beauty in the bitter.
With love to you and your beautiful family x
Emily said…
I'm so glad your daughter is well--this definitely captures pain. I really like the title
Dani In NC said…
The "amen" at the end brought tears to my eyes. It changed the poem from "Let's put this all behind us" to "Please, God, don't make us go through anything like this again."
Deb R said…
It works for me too. I found myself holding my breath, rushing through to the end to see if everything was ok, and then when it was I had to go back again and read it more slowly.

Of course, if you decide to make changes, I'm sure I'll like those too because you're a fabulous poet. But this version was a "wow" for me.
paris parfait said…
This is such a beautiful, poignant prayer for your child. Wonderfully expressed - sentiment, emotion and matter-of-fact medical processes, all intertwined.
January, look on my blog and find on my bloglist a name erin monahan. She just lost a baby boy to a congenital heart defect. He was four months old. She has written a lot about it, has written some poems, is going to walk in the Heart Foundation walk-a-thon in september. I think she'd like your poem, too. I was going to send it to her, but i didn't know if i should (i don't know how, anyway) If you have some time, look at her blog.
January said…
OMG. Thanks Pepek.

I don't know what to say.
Jennifer S. said…
so scary. so glad there's a happy ending. The "Forget Him" really struck me...
Maureen said…
An honest, real, and touching poem. Your voice comes through, the love you have for your child ... and what a beautiful prayer.
Anonymous said…
Oh my, Ms. O'Neill, I just discovered your poem, "The Small Plans" at Poetry Thursday, then followed to your blog, and read your thoughts about the poem. I have a different (well, only slightly different) perspective. I'm a mom too, but also a nurse. "Watching you vanish and reappear in the space of my hands." "Is is true He doesn't give you more than you can bear? Forget I asked." Thank you for giving my experience, my prayer, such good words. Although you have your doubts, these words so work for your readers. And though I mostly write in choppy and ridiculous medical code all day, I have been pursuing a lit degree since I got out of nursing school. In no way am I a poet, my thing is mostly personal essay and attempts at short story, but on the other hand, I like to think I have an ear, you know? And I know that as the author you have the final say about your writing, but I must object to your assessment of failure. I don't see or hear anything failed here, not as a poem, not as a prayer. Of course, then I saw your quote from Beckett, and I thought, hmm, "fail" is not the condemning and fearful word to you as it is to me. And thank you for that too.


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