Alex Gallo-Brown
Variations on Labor

Variations on Labor


During our weekly childbirth class

             the peppy medical professional tells us

          today we are going to be learning about labor

               and the variations of discomfort

                        my wife

             will soon experience—

        the first part spent at home watching

             Netflix, the professional


            (it is important

                  for the partner

                          to remain calm)—

             before the transport

                to the hospital—

                    the submission

                        to triage—

                                the placement

                                   of the monitor

                                     around the patient’s waist—

           (it is important

                for the partner

                    to remain calm)—

            before the final push—



                       effaced cervix


                            the head

                              a crown—

                                 the vulva

                                    a valve

(it is important

       for the partner

            to remain calm)—

            While the bleary-eyed professional

               prattles on

            the phrase variations of labor rises

                 in blue letters

                                 on the big screen,

                                    bringing to mind not

       future selfless support

                                    but past

                                        personal exertion

                               not the voluntary

  worshipful act 

                                           but mandatory

 grudging depletion—

so much of the time

    we have been given

                    surrendered to my job

                                                or hers,

                                     so many of the years spent

                                         together devoted to

         other people’s needs.

                   I think of Jody

                       the woman with cerebral palsy

                                                     who I bathed and fed and gave

           medicine to

                                       with the attention

                                 normally reserved

                                                    for a family member

         towards whom one feels

                                      an immeasurable debt—           

           who thudded tennis balls

                              against the walls

                                    in a giddy fervor

                                        of delight—

           who could comprehend the contempt

                                 felt by the other caregivers

                                         for the people

          left in their charge—

                                                who could understand the love

                                 that can pass between strangers

                          who find themselves confined

to a room—

                              While the professional presses on,

                         I sense my wife tensed

         beside me as she takes

  comprehensive notes

                 and am reminded

                                                 not of the woman

                                                       who I watched grow 

                                                             sure-footed and child-ready

                                over the past nine years

                             but the little girl

                         who wore glasses 

                     coiled all the way

around her ears—

     who moved from classroom

              to playground and back again

carrying an aura

        that deserved attention

              beyond what a little boy

                    could give—

                       who worked hard

                             to become the woman

              who sustains

                  our child.

I Was a Worker Once 


I was a worker once. 

Lent my labor to  

the appetites of mass. 

Like a caged animal, 

my master said, 

beautiful, self-contained. 

Only once was I asked to sacrifice  

the fingers of my left hand, 

which I gave willingly  

and mostly without regret. 

I could follow 

my master's reasoning. 

I was sympathetic  

to her plight.  

The company had 

its own hunger. 

We would all be asked 

to give. 


And what of the other workers? 

Where did they figure in? 

I kept my gaze  

on the task 

in front of me. 

I waited  

for my shift  

to end.