One swipe of the sonogram
and the midwife had the sex predicted
she stacked away files like over-sized
tarot cards shuffling through the blood work
slicking the lubricated wand back and forth
like an upturned hourglass to spell out the word
‘girl’ on the Ouija board of my bulging stomach.
I folded the scan picture like a brewing secret
gave a copy to my mother, the gift of birth passed down
the hands of women, a flat lithograph, grainier
than a memory, a gelatine print,
a boneless x-ray, an alien woodcut.
Not long after that my body shivered
into postpartum, chartreuse light levered
its way through shadows and I became one of the new
mothers wandering the hospital corridors in cotton gowns;
trying on rooms like shoes, barefoot and barren
slotting coins into payphones mechanically calling
future selves to check in, stomachs deflated and slack,
eyes bloodshot like raw steak, darker than forest shadow.
This is the metamorphosis, a new skin shed, the older part
locked in a bathroom somewhere starving and slightly sad
stepping back further into previous chapters
so when winter strips the trees of their bark
we will stand naked in the mirror
and call out our own names.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2019 was Roseanne Watt.
Like the image of the sonogram, here is a poem that moves masterfully between the sounds of light and shadow, capturing the shifting dimensions of new motherhood. I am besotted with the way Ayachi finds the perfect similes for her images, in the stacked files ‘like over-sized/tarot cards’, ‘trying on rooms like shoes’, ‘eyes bloodshot like raw steak’. The poem seeks vitality even in the moments of a difficult postpartum phase, and in its midst we are nonetheless left with an affirming reclamation of identity by the final lines.
This poem is about the biggest magic trick in the world; birth and the transformation women go through as a mother for the first time. It is something so spiritual but entirely physical, as if labour is a portal to both transcendence and presence. As we leave and return we are almost cracked out of form, (the only way to transcend the pain; the body self-satisfies, feeds the brain natural chemicals, offers an escape route.) The whole journey felt as if I was coming up on ecstasy in fact, one long trip from the initial rush on swallowing the news of pregnancy; the waiting for it to kick, the way you love something forever and then finally get to meet it climax and as you do, face to face, you shed a skin, slip into another being; a becoming, a new shape, a mother. Some come-down postnatal experiences can be worse than others, not all women (metaphorically) fistpump and breast pump with a glow stick and their baby on the gurney! There is a moment of feeling lost, the burden of metamorphosis, you won’t find your old self again, but you can search for future semblances through growth, evolution, a closer understanding of miracle, sacrifice, and of unconditional love.