With Intersection, her monthly column, celebrated poet Chelsea Dingman enters a place of questions left hanging—of lyric understanding, of addiction, and womanhood, and politics, and death.
At the Precipice
36 Weeks Gestation
I dream you. I dream you are blue. I dream that I wake and you blue the space next to me.
Carolyn Forché calls the blue hour the hour before dawn. In that hour, we are blue, but alive. You move inside me like wild blue fire. Like fear.
37 Weeks Gestation
My brother falls down inside the day. It’s fall. The snow hasn’t touched us yet. He has been struggling with alcoholism. Maybe for years now—I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t want to know.
You kick me. My mother asks me to come over and watch my brother at her house. My back throbs. My other children go to school and return home. The sky blues. My husband rubs my back. My brother can’t walk up the stairs. The world stops for no one.
38 Weeks Gestation
You are scheduled to enter the world via induction. I am not afraid. I am afraid. I fall down the stairs and bruise my ribs, my tailbone. I coach my youngest son at his hockey games over the weekend because I’m afraid he’ll have less of me once you enter the world. I act like I can do it all because I can do it all—maybe not well, but dammit I’m trying.
I fear not living long enough to see you through life. I can’t breathe again. I go to the hospital, afraid to meet you. Afraid something might be wrong. Afraid something is wrong with me. I test positive for Strep B. I am on antibiotics for eight hours before the oxytocin drip because they are afraid I will give it to you during birth. I am afraid of nothing except leaving you. Except that you might not live.
You are born healthy at 12:01am. My brother goes missing earlier that night. He stops answering his phone. My mother doesn’t sleep. He has left rehab after 5 days and returned home. Is there ever a time where you can be sure your child will live? At what age? At what point are we not needed?
One Week Old
I catch up on reading and emails while I’m nursing every three hours through the night. It snows. The cold leaves us landlocked. I read a New York Times article by Leigh Ann Henion where she states those who have recently given birth experience dream-enactment behavior, in which women regularly wake up crawling on the floor or searching the sheets for their (sometimes blue) babies.
Jon Tribble, husband of Allison Joseph and beloved editor/poet/teacher dies. I’ve met and spoken to Allison, but only knew Jon over email and respected him from afar on social media. The sky opens and empties of birds. A wonderful friend from my MFA cohort loses her husband suddenly, then her youngest brother. Another wonderful MFA friend loses her father. She asks me for poems for the funeral. Everything seems quieter, the world turned down low. The cold enters my un-knitted bones. All that we are becomes elegy.
The heart is an ice-covered field. It holds what it can, even now. Even still.
I dream every night that my daughter is blue. I wake and wake and wake and put my hand to her face.
Nothing seems as important as these people we’ve committed our lives to caring about. Nothing seems as important as language that lets us live through their absence.
Two Weeks Old
My brother falls down. Gets up. Goes home. Gets sober. Goes to meetings. Gets sick. Gets well. Gets physiotherapy for the nerve damage in his legs, now a permanent side effect of malnutrition. This is the cycle, I know. In our minds, we all know. There is little to do but wait and see and support and stay in touch and put our own anger and frustration aside.
My daughter fails to gain back her birth weight. I’m exhausted. I’ve been going to work again in the afternoons because I work for a small company and we can’t afford to fail.
Several of the poets I went to grad school with are either pregnant or have just had babies. I can’t help but wonder if we are all trying to subvert the idea that we can’t do it all. We have daughters and sons (or not). New books or essays or poems or students. Full-time jobs. Partners. Extended families. Money worries. Health insurance worries. Retirement worries. Everyday worries.
Worry becomes a sore we carry. We worry it raw. We are raw. Raw is war spelled another way. What does any of this mean?