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

                     suggests—

            (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—

               contractions

                  intensifying—

                       effaced cervix

                          widening—

                            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.

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 

                     suggests— 

            (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— 

          contractions 

                         intensifying— 

                         effaced cervix 

                                widening— 

                     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.