This poem was published in “Bellowing Ark” a couple of years ago:
Mozambique: A woman gave birth Wednesday to a baby girl in a treetop where she had lived above raging water for four days.
(The Burlington Free Press–March 2, 2000. )
This must be an African myth,
or something Kipling thought up.
Or it’s a dream someone told me
and the flood represents chaos, or some unacknowledged power
carrying away what the dreamer thought she knew.
Sophia means wisdom, Pedro means rock:
there is stability in the dreamer, even in her present distress.
Giving birth–she is on the eve of something new.
The tree could be the violated Tree of Knowledge,
or the Tree of Life, guarded by angels or dragons,
with apples forbidden to all but heroes, or gods–
But this was not a dream
and my body curls inside, imagining
the reality: the Limpopo a filthy rapids
swirling the dying and the dead
across the fields, through the streets; Sophia
braced against a limb, one leg wrapped around a branch–
how? I have known in my own one laboring
(between white walls, my husband’s hands, my midwife’s hands)
vertigo of pain, exhaustion of muscle,
the surging of water and blood. I knew only
that the world could end and the child would be born.
was four days in the top of a tree, Sophia
bled through green leaves.
They told me the transition of labor
would be hard. Breathe fast,
they said. It will hurt.
They were right.
Sophia, in transition, in a tree–
did she pant till she felt in her chest
that earthquake groan that means NOW?
You’ll know, they told me, when it’s time. I knew.
My husband moved beside me;
I seized his chest and lifted him from the floor;
our son’s red face squeezed through.
Through his clear-water eyes what did he see?
Daughter of Sophia,
what did you see?
Green leaves, bark, the gray sky between,
long brown fingers laced tight around your new wet flesh–
The births of incarnate gods
are always uncanny.
This little girl born in a tree
above the stinking flood–
her mother Sophia Pedro
screaming her woman’s screams,
opening wide, reaching out
into the air between her legs
for the slippery new squalling life
–could she be anyone
a vivid fresh enfleshment
of everything redeemed?