“Joining Forces” – Truce (Delivered)

Joining Forces

There is always the watcher, the one who espies
inside, slyly
analytic, silent
except when snark.
Though for hours, she’d tried
to decamp,
to flee the body that we share (ensnared
by pain), to pull out
of any continguity
with lower torso. Whining
well before the Irish nurse crooned push,
push the baby,
that all
was going wrong–impossible for her, the mistress
of ‘should-be,’ to believe so much pain
not terribly incorrect–

Then, when all did
go wrong, the knell
of my wired belly slowing
to the low thuds of the inconceivably
wrung from room and umbilical cord and only
in those seconds after life and flesh hardened beyond
what could be borne, unleashing, briefly, the
flutter of caught bird’s heart–
push push push push

Straddling contractions-1-2-3-
they–LIFT– maneuvered us urgently
into the OR–push
push push push–
while she, peering through face-clasped hands,
crouched in the ceiling corner
of my brain’s buzzing

Overhead, masks aimed metal shells
of high-tubed light–I grabbed her by hunched–
you’ve got to–
just this once–
push push push push–
and she–
and she–
and she–
gave me
our all.


Here’s a reading of the poem, which is the true story of the birth of my first child.

As a “process note,” the wired belly refers to the fetal monitor which conveys the sounds of the baby’s heartbeat (all those thuds and flutters.)  Contractions make the pregnant stomach unbelievably hard.  Tangled cord can cut off  O2.

I wrote the poem for my prompt of “truce” for dVerse Poets Pub, a community of wonderful poets, which I am hosting today.  Check it out!  I am also linking to Emily Wieranga’s Imperfect Prose (about childbirth).  

And also, my books!  Poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 1 Mississippi -counting book for lovers of rivers, light and pachyderms, orNose Dive. Nose Dive is available on Kindle for just 99 cents! Nose Dive really is very funny and light hearted, and 1 Mississippi is a lot of fun for little teeny kids.

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50 Comments on ““Joining Forces” – Truce (Delivered)”

  1. Never having given birth, I cannot imagine the pain of this. One of my sisters positively bloomed all through her 4 pregnancies yet, I walked in the room to take my brother in law some lunch when she was in labour and didn’t recognise the person screaming, swearing and yelling all kinds of curse words at the top of her lungs… lol Giving birth is not for the faint of heart.
    This is a really fascinating, scary look, at childbirth. Brilliant poetry.

  2. Laurie Kolp Says:

    This had me on the edge of my seat! What an experience. I especially like the 1st stanza and-

    Though for hours, she’d tried
    to decamp,
    to flee the body that we share (ensnared
    by pain),

  3. brian miller Says:

    you gripped my heart with your intensity…when logan was born (yet another drama filled moment of my life) we had so many complications….long labor, merconium, lost heartbeat….ugh, brutal day..i was so helpless….you took me back there…

  4. Beautifully rendered account of that moment of birthing. You tell it so well, Karin. I found myself racing through the poem to find out how everything turned out.

  5. Miriam E. Says:

    i can honestly say i was holding my breath… fast-paced and intense.
    great poem.

  6. Mary Says:

    Wow, 40 hours of labor! Sigh. I can’t imagine………… I enjoyed (is that the word I want?) of your poem. You have really, REALLY driven the miracle of giving birth home. And I am exhausted in the reading. (Smiles)

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha! It was a very long labor that was just plain slow until the very end was things started going wrong and it suddenly became very very fast. I was truly the luckiest woman on earth that night. k.

  7. Poet Laundry Says:

    Excellent…your descriptions are fantastic. Been there 4 times, great writing!

  8. poemsofhateandhope Says:

    Maybe not so much a poem about truce! But about not giving up! Damn- this scares the shit out of me…and I’ll never have to go through it…not the pushing bit anyway!…. This absorbed me completely – drama, pain, struggle, but finally, the conclusion…the battle was over…peace at last (well..maybe not peace!)…phew!!!! Great poem Karin

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha. Thanks! The truce was with the part of myself that always hangs back and watches. This was actually quite true – I remember when they were getting ready to do an emergency C-Section, telling that part of myself that there could be no holding back. So that’s what I meant as the truce – not sure it comes across.

      I did certainly have other ideas – but didn’t want to go political and this came to mind. I really enjoyed yours Stu.

      PS – you know, unfortunately, there’s no real opportunity to “give up” as far as pain or even childbirth are concerned. It will go on whether you will or no! k.

  9. hedgewitch Says:

    A really interesting approach to truce, k–and you make it work, hidden in the poem more than stated in the resolution. I’m not sure there are real, actual words strong enough to convey that kind of pain, the reason it’s called labor (though torture would also work) the anxiety and fear that are huge but just get pushed aside by the totality of it–but yours are as close as I can picture words coming. (Almost 40 years now, but I obviously still remember. Vividly!!)

  10. Grace Says:

    Yes, been done three times myself ~ Love the pace here K ~

  11. Mama Zen Says:

    Brilliant job with the tension in this. I love

    “the mistress
    of ‘should-be,’ to believe so much pain
    not terribly incorrect–”

  12. claudia Says:

    oh wow…childbirth is such magic and such stress and tension…wonderful capture k. – you took me back to my own memories…

  13. First, such a joy to hear you read this, second, a wonderful look at that inexorable process, its inexplicable entwinement of self and other and third, I loved the title! Beautiful and thank you for the very inspiring prompt.

  14. Remembrance personified

  15. Thank you for the prompt and the poem. I’ve never given birth before, but your poem gave me an idea of what you mothers go through.

  16. My wife got drunk on gas and air and proceeded to show she could still do ballet high kicks whilst in labour-nurse not amused!

    She also went in on basis of natural birth and no drugs so by this stage was swearing worse then any dock labourer and at a volume that got a flock of nurses in to ask the lady to zip it. So I ‘hear’ what the poem says.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha! Well, my deliveries were pretty “natural” – meaning no big drug guns etc – I really did have a number of complications the first one, but they were resolved thankfully and in time. I was so glad to be in a hospital though. Even though I didn’t need the surgery -when things go south they can move extremely fast. People forget what a hazardous business childbirth was/is historically and in much of the world. I do think it’s over-medicated and over-complicated and the type of pain (that is labor and not from something else) does go away when you see your child amazingly fast. But it’s dramatic. Thanks, John. k.

  17. kaykuala Says:

    You took me back to the day Adura (my first daughter ) was born 40 yrs ago. We’re lucky there were no complications (and I was there clasping my wife’s palm) It was a frightening experience! Thanks for sharing K!


  18. Intense and real. I felt it all over again here – it is like war and peace in one episode. Expertly written K!

  19. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis, 3:16)


    By autumn we have come to fall.
    The seed of spring we harvest. Dead
    the Son in life reveals it all,
    when corn as grinded turn to bread.


  20. Pat Hatt Says:

    And another reason why men are weak, you can keep such an act, I will run far away haha sure some swearing came due on delivery day.

  21. janehewey Says:

    “flutter of caught bird’s heart” had me whimper out loud. Somehow I am able to take on the hard, push, urgent, growl (and certainly did for three births) more easily than that tiny place of voice to cage. I had three amazing birth experiences and can’t seem to find the words for them. I bow to you for your courage and also how seamlessly you pulled it off. “gave me our all” is just a brilliant ending. Birth is the first teamwork of mom and child. This is deeply evocative, Karin.

  22. Wander Says:

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  23. Loved this – you’ve captured so well the exhilarating, exhausting, messy business of giving birth.

  24. Sabio Lantz Says:

    It was very good to hear your reading.
    Your verbal breaks are very different than your visual breaks.
    I have always wondered why modern poets do this.
    When I hear them read — it all makes more sense
    than the visual awkward breaks — well, awkward to me.

    Some of your reading matched the breaks perfectly.

    I listened three times, I liked it so much.

    I agree with Kooser when he tells us that the Title should be the hand of friendship to the reader — to say, “Here, I won’t make this hard for you. I am writing for you.” And so (with trembling for making a suggestion to a real poet), I’d have called your poem something like: “Birthing my First Child”. Then we are with your right from the start. We don’t have to wait for your explanation at the end of the poem which almost demands that we read it again. Just my thought.

    Thanx for the recording. — I must try that . You have a fantastic voice. Did you pay for “SoundCloud” or get the free account? How soon, I wonder, does the free stuff run out?

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Hi Sabio,

      You make very good points in your comments, so I’ll try to address them each.

      1. Personally, I believe that punctuation is tremendously important in poetry. The visual line breaks are based on some internal feeling of enjambment where sometimes the last word of a line, and sometimes the first, seem to get extra emphasis. I am not sure what the principals of enjambment are = but I can tell you I spend a great deal of time on it. You’d be surprised I’m sure! But I change the line breaks repeatedly reading something again and again until I think I’ve got them right. Sometimes I’m still very undecided, but it really is a matter of feel and instinct for me, and has a lot to do with how something is emphasized.

      That said, a line break is not a punctuation break and in my poetry (and much modern poetry) should not be an automatic pause. I personally find it very frustrating when people do not use punctuation, because I find it makes it very difficult for me to know when to pause, and sometimes even to understand the meaning (without having to rely much too much on context.) I used to actually put in a little line with my posts to say please don’t pause with the line breaks but only with the commas, dashes, periods, etc! But that got too cumbersome. Anyway, there’s a whole science to enjambment. Victoria wrote something about it on dVerse for some post, but it really is quite complex and certainly varies from person to person. For me, I can just say that it is about a certain kind of mental emphasis, and sometimes to impart a double-meaning, or a different layer of meaning.

      2. Re Title – I agree about communication! I never want to mystify the reader! But here’s the reason that I like this title. The poem is about birthing a child, but that is not actually – in my mind – the central drama of the poem, or at least not what I intended. The focus (and the title) were supposed to be about the joining up of the “watcher” part of my mind, and the “liver/doer/actor” part of myself. The idea, which was in fact very true of that experience, was that a part of one’s self (at least myself) always hangs back, does not participate. It is very hard for me to be one with an experience, to live it fully, because there is the bit of the mind that simply surveys what the rest of me is doing/feeling/experiencing, analyzing, commenting, sometimes judging. (Is this the super ego? I don’t know enough about psychology to know.) So the idea is that at a certain point the experience became so demanding and urgent – that I had to use my whole self – I had to mandate the watcher to join in and help me deliver the baby. So the joining forces is not intended to be me and the baby really, but the doing/experiencing me, and the watching/hanging back me. It was a truce for the moment to be my whole self and to allow my whole self to act and to be in the experience. And that is why the end says “she” – the watcher – gave me our all. It was all of us. Of course, there’s an element that the baby was also our all = as honestly there can be no “all” greater than that.

      So, that’s why I like my title as is!

      3. There are a few different apps. This soundcloud seems to give a fair amount of free time. I actually do the recording through my iPhone, upload it to Soundcloud’s website, and then copy the link to here. There is another one I used to use that was also good and free. It is called Hokusai – but it seemed more complicated as it used dropbox a lot, which I don’t use much. The Hokusai has an app that you pay for that may be easier.

      If you like readings – I read several villanelles which involve a fair amount of enjambment, and there is one I actually like quite a bit where I read two villanelles on top of each other. I will get the link and post it on another reply. You may enjoy it. It was so interesting to me as my technology is incredibly primitive but because of the meter of the villanelles, they matched up very well – the fact that they were a form done in the way I tend to do them meant that they had very similar line structure.

      Thanks so much. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the poem, and I always appreciate your questions. Sorry to have such a long answer! k.

      • Sabio Lantz Says:

        (1) Ah, so you use punctuation for pause signals
        and line breaks for idea/word emphasis.
        I get that.
        I do appreciate that you must spend lots of time on it.
        But I must say, I am still not an enjambment fan — maybe with time I shall change.

        (2) Thanx for the explanation of getting your watcher to join in.

        (3) Thanx for the recording info. I may have to try that. Your suggestions are most helpful.

        Loved the long answers.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Ha- well I find the enjambment quite fascinating. Not on a shaping level – I agreed with your poem there. But I don’t know – it may be something that only speaks to the person writing!

        However, I will say that it (enjambment) can be quite useful in formal poetry, as it is a way to break up the sing/songiness. Almost all the poems I used to write were in forms – in my book – I was very intimidated by free verse – and I find that enjambment is extremely useful in a villanelle or sonnet or even sestina to keep it from sounding so “pat.” So if you are interested in forms, you may find it worth exploring. k.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Hi Sabio – please and only if you are interested – here are some villanelles in audio – these were done with Hokusai – it doesn’t show up so clearly in post, you need to click the colored writing.




      The first two are read separately; the third has them combined. You might find them a little interesting because the poems use enjambment quite a bit even in the form. But please, feel NO obligation – only if you think you might enjoy or want to check out the Hokusai! (The audio comes wherever I say to click, but doesn’t show up like sound wave.)

      Thanks much. k.

  25. David Chamberlain Jr. Says:

    A remarkable poem. I’ve never read anything like it. Great work!

  26. nico Says:

    I have a bunch of kids, and I’ve been there in the room for all of their births. (So I’m an expert, though as a male it is second-hand!) This is perfectly rendered, so moving–it took me back to relive my own experiences.

  27. Jody Lee Collins Says:

    Karin–so glad I found your post here (missed out on dVerse this week…). You have captured this perfectly…..wow.
    How coincidental (not…) that my post was poem about birth as well, but the spiritual kind. Hope you’ll be able to click on over to read when you have a minute.

  28. you brought me back into that delivery room, friend… the gentle feeling of dying and then the incredible exuberant feeling of being alive for the very first time. thank you.

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