The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®

 

Christopher Forrest

The Crown of Fear and Parenthood

 

And this one’s when abortion wins debate
scenarios far-fetched have now come true
and talks of little consequence bear weight
and justify the thing we said we’d do
and nervous reassurance fills the air
that now there’s far too much to throw away
and trailed-off statements
it would be unfair…
and act as if on camera or a play
the clinic now distorts in dolly zoom
our steps are thunder, people turn and stare
the protesters encroach, we fight for room
tomatoes bomb our stage and mat our hair.
And now it’s done. We promise as we leave
that one day we’ll be ready to conceive.


And this one’s when we’re ready to conceive
a dark drive home from some black-tie affair
and snow is falling, maybe New Year’s Eve
we ask ourselves
what are we waiting for?
And like adults we check against our list
to make sure all our selfish wants are met
and current childless freedoms won’t be missed.
We own a home and carry no bad debt,
employment and financials seem secure,
we honeymooned the Grecian waterfront,
we trekked Nepal and prayed in Bandipur,
and most of all we say it’s what we want.
Equipped with this new goal to be achieved
we have more sex than young me would believe.


And here’s more sex than young me would believe
we read the tips, buy ovulation kits
abstain for days to cultivate the seed
and now the real production can begin.
The scene matched only by our wedding night
and petals kiss your skin like lingerie
and shimmy to the bed in candlelight
anticipation limits our foreplay.
And after months we reach the second act
as passions now diminish to routine
excitement yields the way to the exact
reducing us from lovers to machine.

Despair begins to spread across your face
until two matching lines and our embrace.


And this is when two pink lines cause embrace
and in the morning fog it seems surreal
the darkening line that grows out of trace
peculiar, what did I expect to feel?
And all day long a test at every pee
confirming our excitement and relief
and warranting a call to our OB
we hasten into planning everything
we’ll tell our parents first but then who’s next?

We both want names that come from family
we both agree to wait to learn the sex
and thus construct a neutral nursery.
We marvel at the things that we’ll soon learn
but first we learn two months is fully term.


And this one’s when two months is fully term
begins when you see spotting on your towel
and now the gushing blood, your hands, confirm
then blur repeats. Repeats
unviable.
We’re sitting, glazed, and naturally asking why?
And wondering if we did something wrong
are we too old and wait too long to try?
How is what we never had already gone?
Now doctors reassure we aren’t to blame
unplanned abortions cannot be explained
at least fifteen percent end up the same
we should go home and start to try again
and just as you begin to feel it squirm
the dreams connect, you scream
cut out that worm


And this one’s when you scream cut out that worm
it all begins at eight months movement slows
and all the fears the ultrasound confirms
are manifest in your hysteric throes
but operating isn’t protocol
and labor should begin within two weeks
and so we wait for death to be expelled
and in this time I barely hear you speak.
We take our nightmare to a counselor
who pummels us with positivity
but positivity cannot be born

and counselors don’t live through the things they treat.
I wake, it seems, from that too difficult to say

imagining the fear that swarms behind my faith.


And this was when fear swarmed behind my faith
and dreams are hampering reality
and my attempts to reconcile breadth
are strewn and scattered everywhere I see


and dreams live only in the present tense
and whether merciful or merciless
their pertinence of late was making sense
amidst our rounds of reproductive tests


and wondering if they hold a larger job
that if we failed or were to miscarry
or still at birth we might not feel as robbed?
Now daydreams muddy more. I hear her say


Please leave your sample on the metal tray
now take this cup and go and masturbate.


And here’s the cup I took to masturbate
the pallid walls erotic as a brick
but memories can make a valuable bank
lid closed I was done and got out of there quick.
My sample cleared we turned our eyes to you
and ultrasounds to check on follicles
and drugs I wished that I could take for you
but we would find no remedy from pills
I picked up the syringes and the pee
dehydrated from those in menopause
at thirty-seven days the dose times three
a single egg defected to our cause.

Now all-consumed with every inch you swelled
and nervous months spent trying not to tell.


And this was when we waited months to tell
while powerless against the vast unknown
we watched the exponential growth of cells
and fretted over sets of chromosomes
I learned words like nuchal-translucency
research is what our dreaming fears demand
but for the sex we still said
wait and see
so half the scans spent buried in my hands
and dreamless were my nights for weeks on end
reality as much as I could bear
we spread the news to family and friends

just healthy, boy or girl we didn’t care.
While gender parties had become widespread
we built our neutral nursery instead.


And then we made the nursery grey instead
and consciousness gave way to Pinterest

and allen wrenches danced around my head
instruction manuals haunting me at rest
and then we put some heirlooms on the wall
and rhyming books filled in the empty case
the closet stocked with blankets, toys and dolls
each drabness waiting for its accent piece.
Are coffins, made before the user dies,
like nurseries prepared before we live?
Are both then built to comfort where we lie
against the definition of
exist?
The questions fill the vacuum in my head
until the night your water broke in bed.


And that was when your water broke in bed
began as trickling ambiguity
but pricked balloons are never slowly bled
and gushed while we sat frozen on the sheets.
You’d taken all your breaks that day to walk
since sex and pedicures were not the trick
courageously I tried to help, and cooked
a spicy chicken enchilada dish.

We floated down the highway under spell
still glad the salesman pushed the Mattress Screen
we got checked in and met the doc on call
a quick exam, he used the word
complete.
The imminence in pulsing beeps and bells
you asked for make-up so you’d picture well.


And then your make-up so you’d picture well
your mantra
Sushi. Wine. A boy or girl.
I hung a calming poster on the wall
to compliment the recent epidural
the doctor prepped his tray and said
it’s time
then strain and praise filled up the room. And heat.
The rhythmic rounds of pushing climbed and climbed
mascara started running down your cheeks
and there began the sense of impotence
that I could only squeeze your hand and breathe
and then perform my role and call the sex
but he came faster that my brain could read.
Two sleepless days reacting, learning fast,
we named our son and took him home at last.


And this was when our son came home at last
to temporary lodgings in our room
and when he woke to cluster break his fast
I’d just wake up and ask what I could do
the lack of sleep in solidarity
nights watching asking questions wiping drool
and entertaining visitors all day
and smiling when they say
he favors you!
The cost of veggie trays and casseroles.
And days turned into weeks turned into months
and meeting all the early milestones
we learned to cue in on his needs and wants
so happy when we all together sat
on sunlit floors with toys and blocks to stack.


And now we’re playing on the sunlit floor
your favorite songs are bouncing round the room
like Laurie Berkner’s marching dinosaurs
you laugh and show your two teeth breaking through

and likewise fearful dreams have been renewed
forget your helmet and fall off your bike
or get in with the wrong peer group at school
and make a choice that follows you for life.


You’re reaching for your brother’s tail and ears
and giggling when he licks your hands and feet
I should not miss these moments nursing fear

and then it crystalizes there for me
that all the futures that could come to pass
will all share in this single perfect past.


And this one’s when abortion wins debate,
and this one’s when we’re ready to conceive,
and here’s more sex than young me would believe,
and this is when two pink lines cause embrace,
and this one’s when two months is fully term,
and this one’s when you scream
cut out that worm,
and this was when fear swarmed behind my faith,
and here’s the cup I took to masturbate,
and this was when we waited months to tell,

and then we made the nursery grey instead,
and that was when your water broke in bed,
and then your make-up so you’d picture well,
and this was when our son came home at last,
his every future shares this perfect past.

 

 

 

CHRISTOPHER FORREST lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He received his MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and currently serves as a poetry editor for Press 53 and Prime Number Magazine.

 

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