The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant


I get your text this morning,

cancelling Wednesday –

your son’s girlfriend is delivering early –

she’s been ambulanced to Melbourne with placental blood

down to her ankles.

I burst into tears even though I have never met her.


It is too reminiscent of my own birth,

our bath piled with blood-soaked towels

marking my imminent arrival,

the whole house shaking with terror.

I nearly killed her with my eagerness to be born.

She nearly killed me with her eagerness to be empty

while my sisters never let me forget.


As I came to term under glass, I risked the judgement of science

and put a spanner into domestic bliss.

Shaken with the intrusive clamour of being alive,

too fragile for the workaday world,

I shed my rough red skin by squalling out of spite.

I was the ghost of reflections made large

in a nursery full of the nearly born and the nearly dead,

the frost breath of masked attendants

quickening my pulse through the glass.

For the longest time, I was laid with mechanical hands

on a rough schedule,

rubber tubes spiralling out of my body

my father delivering expressed milk

in the evening on his way home from work.

When I returned to the hospital at seven

I remembered the blackness, and nothing else –

my psychological birth into a void.


My parents brought me a mechanical

monkey with a tartan waistcoat

his shuddering gait gaining the front step of the hospital

whilst my momentum was winding down.

On the first night, I cried into the blackness –

no-one came.


I was born into domestic turmoil

Where a spade was not a spade,

my every move watched by the weird sisters

who would have cut off my budding self,

but that job was already accomplished by my mother

who needed perfection like other women need air.

Her eyes were always unchained, digging deep,

gouging flaws like cancers,

a spectacular satisfaction guiding her words,

her gaze, her social misapprehension

so profound not even a shrink could sink to those depths

and still come up for breath.


My sisters were always careful to twist my braids

into familiar patterns,

to bite where no marks would show,

to hold me down until I cried

when no one was watching. The whole tribe

had a casual mode of abrogation

which reigned until I turned red

with an allergy that split my skin

and then it was because I was too strange.

Down to the clothes on my back

and the hair on my head

and beyond even that I was the subject

of a communal flank,

a Greek chorus

and an army of nay-sayers

who couldn’t wait to say no.

Not so much a void as a pit

but black all the same.

When I came to make my way in the world,

the colour stayed with me

grabbing all the hope –

my psychological birth into the void.


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