Ellen Bass – Because

Ellen Bass

Because the night I gave birth my husband went blind.
Hysterical, I guess you’d call it.
Because there’d been too many people
and then there was no one. Only
this small creature—her tiny cry
no bigger than a sequin.
Because I’d been pushing too many hours.
Even with her soft skull plates shifting,
the collar of my bones too slender.
When I reached down
I could feel the wet wisps of hair of this being living
inside me, but her heart was weakening.
The midwife told me not to push
on the way to the hospital, but I pushed anyway.
This was California in the seventies and I’d have pushed until I died.
The doctor asked for permission to cut
my perineum. So polite, as though he were requesting
the pleasure of the next dance. Then he slid in forceps
skillfully, not a scratch on her temples.
But we left that haven the same night because my husband
didn’t believe in hospitals, the baby naked,
wrapped only in a blanket because we both believed
in skin to skin. Because the baby cried,
but wouldn’t suck.
Because when I started to stand
I started to faint so I had to crawl
to the sterile diapers and pale-yellow sleeper
folded inside the brown paper bag I’d baked in the oven.
Because I’m still there on my hands and knees,
deflated belly and ripe breasts, huge dark nipples,
tearing open the stapled bag,
fumbling the ducky pins,
two fingers slipped between the baby’s belly
and the thick layers of cotton, the sharp point.
The baby, a stranger,
yet so strangely familiar,
flecks of blood still stuck to her scalp.
Because my husband slept
beside me and I let him sleep.
Because it would be years before I left him.
Now love and grief would be greater
than I ever imagined,
rooted together like north and south,
over and under.
Because I too had been pushed out
into another world
I lay there with the baby whimpering in my arms,
both of us wide awake in the darkness.