The Human Line by Ellen Bass

The Human Line

After I had carried her those nine months,
those two hundred and eighty-four day, each
with its sheaf of hours, each hour fanned out
into minutes, into seconds, as though time had been
sliced thin as onionskin

After I’d hauled this cache of cells as it swept
through a kind of rough evolution, devising
arm buds and sex buds
and the buds for twenty milk teeth —

And then birthed her, my cervix cranked open,
a rusty hinge. And the pain —
what a tree might feel when lightning splits it
and the two halves fall away —

Then I realized — I’m not proud
to admit this is what it took — that everyone
was lugged in the sack of a woman’s body,
a woman stretched past reason
or slit with a steel scalpel.

Even if she left that baby right there
without counting the pearly toes, thumbing
the miniature knuckles, even if she didn’t
look into the face, neutral as Buddha,
before thirst even. If she was drugged
or relieved and the baby whisked away, still
She gave this child every intricate bone in both feet,
the hollow vertebrae, tiny liver,
lungs that fill with air for the first time
and begin, without a lesson,
bringing this world in and releasing it.

Did Mary feel this way when the angel came to her
holding his useless lily? Not in the surfeit
of gilt frames where she’s poised,
serene, but those few where the artist knew,
had seen women already crushed, bowed.
I was standing in the long hospital corridor
when the knowledge entered me.
I didn’t want it. It was grief —
extending back through time
and reaching into the future, all these babies,
all these mothers with their hearts
beating outside their bodies. And now
I was one of them, lashed to the human line.

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