writing through it

Personal Helicon

by Seamus Heaney

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch,
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.


When in crisis, I’m especially thankful for poetry. Writing poetry helps me to sit with my emotions and accept them and mull them over in a way I don’t know that I would without poetry. To set that darkness echoing…

One of the hospital psychologist, on her rounds stopping by patient rooms to make sure the parents aren’t suicidal (I think that is the main goal of the screening), I told her a little bit about my feelings of anxiety, especially at night, my heart beating so fast and the breathlessness, and she reassures me how normal it is, and said that having my children must help me. I had not thought of that but they certainly do–when I’m taking care of my girls, it is just next thing to next thing, no time to sift around in the mucky waters on the edges of the nihilistic abyss I tend to skirt when..well when these hospitalized babies tend to happen.

When I do want to wade a little deeper, I feel like poetry is a good way to do it–sort of a rope around the waist you can use to pull yourself back out. Not that I write any of this to cause anyone to worry about me–if I weren’t writing about it, then that might be cause for worry. But writing about it, for me, is sorting through it, categorizing, turning it over in my hands. And when I do that I’m not afraid of it anymore.



Yesterday I put away all of Kit’s newborn things. She’s outgrown them since she’s been in the hospital. Most of them were worn at least once–if not by her, by one of her big sisters–but it still felt like I lost that time, that entire month of her in the hospital.

I don’t consider myself a materialistic or sentimental person but I am intensely emotional about baby clothes. These soft, worn, first things, reminders of how small their bodies are (or were). Hopefully folding, hopefully sorting into drawers.

I don’t feel hopeful. Some days, like today, I wonder if Kit will ever come home. Still I go into the basement, bring up a pile of clothes I had put away when my 2 year old outgrew them, clothes played in and slept in and washed so many times.

I tucked them into Kit’s dresser, waiting for her, like we are all waiting for her.


I walked into Kit’s room this morning with her four older sisters, a packed lunch, and bags of toys and books slung over my shoulder. A nurse, sheathed in the yellow quarantine gown and mask was holding her, and there was a paci in Kit’s mouth and Kit was sucking on it. I cried.

And it felt so silly to be crying with happiness that my baby was taking a paci when I know there are so many moms who have cried because their baby wasn’t allowed a paci and was given one or because their toddler wouldn’t stop taking a paci… and I have been the mom that was crying because my baby was drinking a bottle when I wanted her to be breastfed…

but to see Kit taking a paci today. I can’t tell you how many countless times I’ve worked with her on overcoming her lost ability to suck/swallow. How many times I’ve sat with her during an ng feed and patiently ran the paci or bottle across her lips, let her clumsily play with it, careful I didn’t inadvertently gag her or push her to take it and cause an aversion. Doctors and nurses I’ve made sure to let know she can’t have them shoving a paci in her mouth, that we are working hard to avoid aversion.

Before Kit got sick, I saw some changes in her–she wasn’t working quite so hard to breathe, and she was chewing on her hands and toys. She was showing much more interest in her mouth and I thought that maybe, possibly, we were getting closer to her being able to start taking a paci and maybe one day a bottle. I thought though that we could forget about all that, with her being in the ICU for three weeks now.

I know she won’t overnight start drinking full bottles and we may still have to get a gtube in the end, but this was a big step today, a really big step. After the discouraging news about her possible blindness and her long hospitalization, this was just so good, so very good.