Photo by Karen Stone
It was one of those crisp cold-sun mornings - breath floating like a spirit in the air, the crackle of loose stones on the paving beneath my feet. My daughter, Emmeline, had just been born, at 9.25am on 29 November, 2012. I was outside calling my parents. The juxtaposition of the icy air, to just moments before, holding mine and her mother's creation, warm with new life and love, is incomparable. The moment you first set eyes on your child cannot be measured:
How to make a Yung man weep:
my fleshed radiator of love,
so new yet
(From 'Exacting It')
For the next week, I would rise at 6.30am, getting to the postnatal ward for 7.30am. I wasn't working at the time, and was able to spend all day, every day there - an opportunity I never took for granted. I would buzz in on arrival, and for the first couple of days I'd get tutted at and told I wasn't meant to be there so early. Seeing I was just a concerned, young-ish father, they'd let me in. I'd take Emmeline from her mother, so she could sleep, and my daughter would curl up on my chest like a doormouse as I sat and read William Burrough's biography to her.
I mostly made notes for poems over the following ten months, amongst changing nappies, night-time feeds, bathtimes, and making bottles - all of which I got very quick at - after a while, you can pretty much do it blindfolded. Some nappy changes are a potent exception though, and require a few more baby wipes than planned. The night-time feeds soon become second nature too - you think you can't possibly adapt to living on such little sleep but you do - I even sleepwalked and answered the door to the health visitor in my boxers:
it had been a long milk-filled Tyme-slot
and sleepwalking had become
an action I was taking to well -
all I can hope
is that I was suitably dressed
when I opened Home Entrance with
my sense barely open and
totally not conscious,
(From 'Health Visitor (Shape Caller)')
When I returned to my studies in English and Creative Writing for the final year of my BA, the collection that would become Zygote Poems began to come together to make my dissertation. I wanted to write about becoming a father, but not your regular collection of sentimental birth poems. I wanted to combine every emotion experienced, the big moments, and the smaller, more banal moments, too, ranging from holding my daughter for the first time on that November morning, to making up bottles of Aptamil.
To make the collection even more personal, I began to think about something that has affected me for a long time - anxiety - a health issue a lot of people dismiss as 'just being silly'. The truth is: it can be suffocating, your brain can fog over, and you can freeze in fright. I thought it would be empowering to explore that. So, there are two strands to the collection - charms, and anxieties. To try and explain anxiety, I wrote all numerical words - something that turns my mind to cotton - phonetically. This anxious spelling also doubles up as 'baby language':
Nothing about you is Mehtrik, you are
pure, unaccustomed, whole and gentle in
your touch on your Calunderr, just as the
wind scurrying around you like awe-
gobbed mice, attending to your Duzun, is
(From 'Furhst Burhfdae Sohnnit')
Mid-writing, my daughter's mother and I ended our relationship - for the best. This suddenly took the collection in a whole new direction I wasn't expecting. It produced new poems which were so in-the-moment that I felt they added to the strength of the collection. You have to take what good you can from everything.
Zygote Poems is in-scripted to my daughter Emmeline, and one day, if she chooses to, she can read it. If and when she does, I will be there to guide her through the poems, just as I guided myself through writing them, and just as we all guided each other through the first year of her life. I'm a single father doing everything I can, and when my little girl comes to stay, I still have to drag myself to bed, as the temptation to stay up all night watching her still angel face as she sleeps, flat on her back, arms up at either side of her head, and the feeling of my heart swelling in adoration, is so hard to resist.
Zygote Poems is available for £5.00 from Cultured Llama.
Cover Image by Mark Holihan