To Florence. 20.11.04

Still was the right word for your birth.
You were a tiny dead weight in my arms,
soft and warm,
but so still.

You never knew life outside me;
suffocated inside me,
your home and death chamber.

But before that, we had a fine time together.
I would read you Shakespeare’s sonnets,
and you would run your fingers over my tummy while you listened.
Every day I sang to you, lots of things, but always Edelweiss.
You always seemed so happy to be with me, so attentive;
Once, reading in the bath, I paused to sing your name – ‘Flo-rence’,
and listening for me, you kicked back straightaway,
a double kick – bump bump.
You liked nectarines; wriggled your appreciation,
so I guiltily bought them out of season to share your pleasure.
Applause scared you – you shook with fear,
and after that I took a pillow to the theatre to protect you from the thunder.
You seemed to recognise Dives and Lazarus;
I found this extraordinary, and told your granny, who said, ‘I can tell we’re going to get on’.
It was our time, our tender private time.
Your only time.

The labour ward was full when they induced you, so I laboured in a day room.
The heating was broken; we wore our winter coats and people wandered in and out to make tea.
The midwife was busy on the ward helping women with their newborns, and was exasperated when my waters broke all over the floor.
‘Look at the mess you’ve made’.
Your dad mopped.
I leaned forward, vomiting and doubled up with pain.
You kicked and turned.
I didn’t know then that you were dying,
your head pushing on a loop of cord which had slipped out before you,
suffocating you with every contraction.

When we reached the labour ward, the midwives said they needed to check your heart;
slid the monitor round and round my belly as contractions raged beneath.
I kept saying, ‘is she ok?’
No one answered.
Another machine arrived, and midwives called for doctors to look
at the last flickering movements of your heart;
your flame nearly out.

‘I’m sorry, your baby’s died’, said the registrar.
Then I gave birth.
They handed you to me and I stared and stared;
you were perfect, and only just dead.
The staff seemed embarrassed, and looked away.

After a while, I lay back and bled.
I was drifting away, looking for you,
but your dad noticed the blood dripping off the bed;
Suddenly there was bustle and injections and I was back
in this stone hard bottomless life
without you.

The consultant on call arrived in evening dress and I wondered why she was there.
Could she bring you back?

But nothing was too much after you’d died.
They found us a private room and everything,
so that I, living, could spend time alone with you, dead.

We had to leave you at the hospital though.
I’m sorry.
It was dreadful.
I felt that I was abandoning you, but I couldn’t take you with me, dead.

But Florence, my love,
I want to tell you that your last journey here was one of great care;
for the man who carried your coffin
carried you with a world of respect and love on his face.
His face was so stricken with grief, you would have thought that he knew you.

So here is this day again,
your birth death day.
You would be fourteen.
Every year I remember the horror;
I don’t know how to escape it.
I hope, one year, I will only think of you drawing trails of love with your fingers over my tummy, think of your life of bliss inside me and not of your crucifixion there.
Your life was so brief, but you taught me to cherish and love with all my heart;
For our love was perfect and in minutes you were gone.

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