Given my poetry pamphlet is now sold out (thank you to everyone who bought a copy), I thought I would record the poems for my much-neglected YouTube channel. Here is a transcript of the first one,
Quickened pain, surprising me
out of all birth plans
and breathing techniques
and the crickets of the TENS
machine crawling up my back.
I had woken early
completed the lists:
paired socks, as my pelvis
pentangled like pulled knitting.
And all too soon
the burn, the squeeze, the heft
was beyond unbearable
you released –
a tide of meaning
into the world.
My last born.
Completing this compost
Never forget how you came:
child of mine.
Never be afraid to labour, and
never push down pain to places you cannot feel it.
Moving from a small village surrounded by countryside to, er, a small village surrounded by countryside, I thought a lot of things would be the same. But the longer we live at the new place, the more differences I’m seeing. Now we’re into our first Spring here, there’s lots to see.
The deer don’t just hang around in the winter – we see them all the time. At the old place, I would see deer sometimes – it was exciting that day we saw one on the way to school – but there are definitely more where we live now.
And I used to love that day in Spring I would drive out of the village and see lambs in the fields. Now, they’re just a walk away. Down the hill, up again, and there they are: cute little wriggles of Spring joy.
My paternal grandmother will be 100 this year. My mother died 13 years ago. My father, in a blend of grieving his wife and tending to his mother, has taken to giving his children pieces of family significance with every visit. At some point, he gave me a sugar bowl my grandmother purchased when she visited my parents shortly after my birth.
It’s a piece of pink English pottery. It is painted with a pastoral scene. It was once broken and glued back together, although one small piece was never found, so there is a small chip in the unlikely place of the middle of the bowl. I use the sugar bowl daily, although it doesn’t technically contain sugar. I say technically because I use a sugar substitute. Not everything my father hands off to us is quite as appreciated.
What is so holy about the blood from a womb?
And am I then, a non-woman, an un-woman? For tabletting these days away with modern medicine we are meant to feel guilty about, because Christianity, because feminized fish?
Because I wear my hair short, never wear a dress flowing red or black, because I do not limit women to cis white sock robots, because I include my trans sisters and my enby siblings, because the patriarchy is delighted when we police each other’s clotted tampons.
When we accidently leave out those who have had hysterectomies over hysteria of a battered woman who needs a shelter, who was never a man in the first place.
All humans bleed. Some more than your soaked gusset, your baby-home-nest clear out. Your curse does not give you the right to cast legislation over others.
I am not a fan of adrenaline. The idea of anything from a roller coaster to swings in the park makes me feel sick. (Always assuming I can fit my hips into a swing in the first place!) I think since having labyrinthitis (which wasn’t labyrinthitis), dizziness will forever be connected with illness, not joy.
I’ve taken on some paid work. Of course a huge yay for this. Being able to pay my mobile phone bill is a Very Good Thing. Maybe I’m out of practice, but the whole ‘talking/communicating with people’ has become another thrilling ride. Which is to say, an unpleasant adrenaline rush.
I can have all the conversations, and usually I’m fine. I will do my work, and I excel in what I do. But because mental health, sometimes I come away shivery, over-stimulated, sloshing with adrenaline.
The wind has been what I believe is known as ‘blowing a hooley’ these past two nights. March is coming in like the proverbial lion, roaring through the trees behind the house as we lie cosy in bed.
You say you wonder how much quieter it is on the other side of the street. That it’s like being in bed on a ferry, or with the dehumidifier on.
I say I wouldn’t swap our house with any of the others around here. I couldn’t believe we found a new build with a view of trees over a valley out the back. It was the main thing that made me sure this was the house for us.
The wind pushes itself through the branches. I cover myself up with the duvet and the blanket, and drift off into peaceful sweet sleep.
It won’t be long now – I know, I’ve done nothing but whine about them being home. Now I’m sort of wondering if I’ll look back on home-learning with a tear in my eye. Like this lunchtime, I thought, ‘this is one of the last lunches you’ll have together in term time, isn’t that sad?’ My kids, however, are nothing if not reliable. Within five minutes they were screaming at each other about something screen-related, I assume. Which I won’t miss AT ALL. It’s been awful and exhausting – I never thought my children would cry daily after babyhood was over. At that same time, I’ve loved slowing down with them, focussing on them above everything else, getting right into what they are into (Star Dew Valley rules btw). I’ll wave them off joyfully but I wouldn’t give this time back, either.
I’m writing this blog at 6:30am in a silent house, clouded over sky. The children are ‘on holiday’ but even when they are ‘at school,’ I still don’t get this kind of peace to write.
I believe this is exactly what I should be doing at this moment. It’s not just that other people ‘have it worse,’ it’s more like other people – nurses, cleaners, supermarket workers – are holding everything together, so I can sit here safe, and a virus can be minimised.
I don’t understand the folk that say we shouldn’t be in lockdown. Don’t they care about people who are at risk?
So I will stay home, and try to follow all the lockdown rules, and wash my hands, and wear a mask, for as long as I need to. It’s really the least I can do.
This week’s blog is a sort of guest post – I’d like to share this blurb about my pamphlet.
Parent. Worshipper. Carrion. is a powerful collection of poems that touch on core but often under-represented aspects of what it is to be human. From parenting to gender, religion to mental health to the natural world, the themes of this pamphlet may be specific to Stella Hervey Birrell’s own life but they are also universally recognisable. Stella has a gift for finding the quiet truths in moments when the balance of life is shifting. These poems are skilfully crafted while still retaining that rawness that makes you sit up and say, “This is it – this is the real thing.”
Rae Plummer, author of Wain.
A link to Wain, which you should buy if you haven’t already.
A link to Parent. Worshipper. Carrion.
It’s just another gig
I keep telling myself.
Just another gig.
Except – I haven’t had a gig – I mean, no one has,
for almost a year.
Who knows when my next one will be?
It’s just me: top of the bill.
It’s just me: a whole pamphlet of me.
(I’m starting to wonder why I’m trying
to convince myself it’s just another gig.)
It’s not just another gig.
I’ll be a little box
(or a big box, depending on your Zoom settings)
on a screen
in my house
in a room
none of the warmth of an audience
none of that pin-drop silence
more a tumbleweed silence.
So I do what I always do –
I breathe, and stretch,
I record myself,
watch it back (that’s the hardest part!).
I take notes.
It gets better.