new zealand electronic poetry centre


Janet Charman

online works

found language

the midwife handed her the cage
saying    ‘when your time comes    set this pigeon free
             i’ll catch the next ferry when your bird reaches me’

we were milking and the pains started
my husband said    ‘Don’t think you’re going anywhere
                             till we finish the herd'

those Maori women    they’re not like us
they go up the back into the whare
and have their babies on their own    with nothing

then the baby came    she turned her face to the wall
it was her way of giving it up
you see
i felt for her

she came round home to visit me later
we never mentioned it    but she gave me five beakers
splashed over with hand painted poppies
and a tall glass pitcher
a Maori girl    never saw her again    i still have them

going flat tack    washing my hands    suddenly thought
‘you never tied off the cord’
i still dream about it
do you know    that baby might’ve bled to death

one night i threw out the afterbirth
and i went down   and said to the girl
‘look    i’m so sorry'    and she said
‘oh no    we don’t believe in those old ways’

in those days it was a sterile procedure
and i dropped the bowls setting up
well    i couldn’t face Sister    tearing strips off
so i just popped them back on the trolley
God knows i’d mopped that floor enough to eat lunch off

those Sisters were old school
dedicated their lives to it
you wouldn’t get them like that now

she saved the baby’s life
stayed with it night and morning
and never took her days off till it could suck by itself
we thought she was an old witch

that was the year we got a paediatrician
his wife demanded to lie on her side for deliveries
and sat up straight after and fed the baby in theatre

those doctors                       we
thought they were God Almighty

yes    he slapped her    i won’t say where
‘It’s not hurting'    he shouted    ‘Settle down’
and she’d paid for a specialist

baby born at home    both well

we went round to see them that same night
and superwoman answered the door herself
‘Clark’s gone for his shout’    she said

it all went perfectly
‘the midwife left    we open the bottle of Moët
and the baby goes blue
                                    Joseph ran for Matiu
                                    psyche nurse    neighbours over the road
                                    knew exactly what to do
                                    clear the airway    let the mucus flow’
‘guess i’m her fairy godfather’    he said

‘Tihe mauri ora’

it was in the Western Leader last week
home birth baby    born on the marae

‘doesn’t seem right to me’

she kept saying    ‘i have to get up’   ‘i have to get up and walk’
Sister was too busy to come
just snapped    ‘Make Her Lie Down’
i tried    in the end she knelt on the bed

well in labour
squatted on the beach    we support her
caught the baby when it came
later she carries him into the water
and both have a warm salt wash

‘those women talk about    everything    in the dayroom
it’s not suitable for the young nurses    i won’t send them down there
i’ll be glad when this group of mothers goes home’

who is this woman in the training film
showing us how to die of toxaemia

is she aware of the camera?

i dedicate this poem to her

the midwife hands us the cage
saying     ‘when your time comes    set the bird free
               i’ll get on the next ferry when it reaches me’


© Janet Charman

Last updated 11 May 2001