Other Poems

On the flow of tears

For my daughters

As each take your leave
now charting your own courses
I pause and ponder your absence
with dreaded joy:
joy that your wings have spread
so far so fast,
dread at the silence filling the air
which your voices once stirred.

It wasn’t that long ago that I
maneuvered surgeon’s scissors
and severed the cord which tied
you to your mother.
That I did so—
snip, then a brief spurt of blood—
without fainting
is surprising.
I took it as a hopeful sign,
that I would not faint as a father.

The memory of those similar,
separate exertions— the extent of
my labor in bringing you to life
so disproportionate to that of your
mother’s— has occupied my
thoughts with more than passing
recollection in recent weeks.
It is as if that rupture served,
with each of you, as prophetic
announcement of what was to come.
It has taken many measured steps
and years and come, no doubt,
too slowly for you,
too quickly for us;
but now the significance of that
severance is fulfilled.

Each of you are occasions for delight,
in ways unique to the wonder
of your separate ways.
The seeds I have sown in your life-soil
(and that of your mother’s,
but here I will speak for myself)
will continue to sprout
for countless seasons to come
and mark you in ways of which
I alternately rejoice and repent.
It is up to you to cultivate,
including pruning and plucking
and uprooting,
as needed.

But your leave-taking also prompts me
to inventory the ways your lives
have cultivated my own,
beginning with your births.

I was a mere bystander in your
gestation, of course. But I now
know about the connection, on either
end, between the passion and pain
in every act of creation.
All hopeful planting finally unfolds
with tender shoots tearing their way
through resistant ground.
The earth must be disturbed;
the womb must be rent;
the cord must be cut.

Every birth is an act of dangerous hope:
The cord which nourishes can also choke;
the body which shelters can also poison;
the tempestuous journey from watery
womb to inaugural breath is subject to
countless perils threatening giver and gift.

Why life should begin with a blood-soaked
Scream is a mystery. But such are the terms
for the flow of milk.

One day, says the prophet,
against overwhelming odds and
much reliable evidence,
the flow of tears will be dried
and death itself will be undone.
As it now stands, though,
history’s outcome seems to favor
those who turn lions loose on lambs,
those who squelch every scream
and rob the suckling of its breast,
and plug birth canals
with fists of fury and fits of ambition.

In their hideous vision every natal cord
becomes a slaver’s chain; every spilling
of blood, a grasping demand rather than
a gratuitous gift. Even now, says the psalmist,
their “eyes swell out with fatness,”
gorged in assault against creation’s
gestation and promised deliverance.

You, beloved daughters, serve as reminders
that life cannot be had on the cheap;
that every new future foreseen in joy
will endure all tearful failures; that strength
of hand and valiance of heart must be
coupled with wombish welcome to that
unnameable (and thus unmanageable)
Promise that death’s ascendance will
be crushed.

Such vision persists; such milk flows;
and by it we are kept from perishing.

©Ken Sehested @ prayerandpolitiks.org. Written in 1999 to mark the college and high school graduations of his daughters, Jessica and Alayna.