from The Uses of Belladonna
The next thing I knew I was awake, and I heard the sympathetic voice of Dr Krönig saying ‘All ees well’, and then I thought to myself ‘I wonder how long before I shall begin to have the baby,’ and while I was still wondering a nurse came in with a pillow, and on the pillow was a baby, and they said I had had it—perhaps I had—but I certainly can never prove it in a courtroom.
— ‘The Truth About Twilight Sleep’, New York Times (January 31st, 1915)
Like a diamond ring in cushioned velvet.
They display it, show how it mewls when slapped,
how its eyes crack open, the jailer’s torchlight
flickering past the keyhole of the prison door,
before shutting again. What a sleepy baby.
Krönig rests his foot on the clouds in my mind,
steps out onto them with a memory-test.
Have I showed you this before? It looks like a diagram,
the buds of the ovaries
at the finials of their elegant branches,
the pear-shaped space they come to.
The baby curls and uncurls cloudily on its mount.
What is this, what does this do, he asks,
close to my face. I know it is a way of looking inside
or of bringing-forth. Time is behaving like blood,
pulsing and pausing, loosing clots. What is that tool,
whose arms are like the fork in a plant
with sweet black berries? He lectures on the far-famed
storks of Frieburg, on the modern irrelevance of pain.
If there is no memory of pain, it is equivalent
to having had no pain, and a doctor then certainly has the right
to speak of ‘painless childbirth’. I am glad
that this little diadem is here, under glass,
next to the scalpel, the silver thread.
The remembering-game. The wishbone in the doctor’s hand.
I struggle to bring it back, but the clouds
are clotting across the sky of my mind. It is his stethoscope.
The benefits of twilight sleep: a lift in the birth rate.
A lift in the marriage rate, as the fear of the torture
accompanying motherhood is lifted.
The preservation of youth and beauty through the removal of agony.
It is a pair of forceps. No third dose.
The baby walks in through the door, fully grown,
carrying a bowl of sand on a velvet pillow.
Sleep another five hours, another day.
A golden cuckoo, full of torchlight, weak breath
like the clots of time falling hard against the windowpane,
I am in my pleasant swaddling of clouds, of don’t-careness.
An instrument is held out for my inspection on its velvet cushion.
Krönig: Do you know what this is? Have I showed you this before?
Fat chalk stack of a pill, flecked with green,
bigger than a pound coin on my nervous tongue.
Bitters of dandelion milk, hot rush
of saliva to the back of the throat, the first ship-roll
of the stomach on the sweep of the wave.
A candle lit in the blood, a skein of cloud pulled
like a fine scarf across the mind. How many fingers
am I holding up, love? There is insight in the drug.
Do you remember seeing me before? I can’t make out the words
scrawled on the back of the cubicle door. Time
is strange. I am offered the coronet of wisdom on violet nap.
The strobe passes like torchlight on a glass sea,
pupils like sinkholes. My don’t-care,
my bitter herbs: my abdication was for them.
Martha Sprackland is a writer and editor from the north of England. Previously co-founder of Cake magazine and assistant poetry editor for Faber, she is now a founding editor of multilingual arts zine La Errante. Martha is poet-in-residence for Caught by the River. Her pamphlet, Glass As Broken Glass, was published by Rack Press in 2017.