Any parent knows how fraught even the easiest pregnancy and birth are. And for women who actually carry the baby
from conception through birth, experience the physical pains of delivery, and the heavier burden of care afterward, the stakes are no doubt even higher.
In her first full-length poetry collection, Viable, Chloe Yelena
Miller takes us on this journey from miscarriage, through a difficult second pregnancy, childbirth, and the post-partum depression and slow bonding
with the new child in the aftermath.
The book begins with a short prologue of sorts in which the speaker
watches a new mother coax her small daughter to step out from behind her and smile at the stranger. (The poem's title, "Mid-Thirties," implies that the
speaker is nearing the end of childbearing years.) The poem's poignant conclusion foreshadows the story to come:
"I, too, know what I would say to a shy child,/given the chance."
The book proper begins with the first of four titled sections, this one called
"Carried," in which the poet reflects on different aspects of having miscarried. She tells of the emotions that follow the loss of a much desired baby:
Grief—"Words' rhythm originates in blood flow, the opening and closing/of
chambers. Internal iambic pentameter. Here I am, left with one/song. The doctor probes, searches for you where you were.//The noun miscarriage
conducts images like electricity. My mother/pushed her baby in a tall, red carriage. Here sunshine, there/a new bonnet.//Shocks seen and unseen
beneath the tires." ("Short Duet / Dualities")
Loneliness—"Before anyone else knew/I was pregnant,/I wasn't." ("Wasn't")
Guilt—"Most miscarriages/aren't mamma's fault,/doctors say./No one says much else." ("Carrying")
Alienation—"If this mother knew/my baby/died in my womb/she would not hand me her five-month-old."
"Carrying," the second section, relates the anticipation, both fearful and hopeful, associated with a new pregnancy.
"A young woman, I loved quickly again/after each inevitable end.//You, I
must love you later….//I can't admit this love….//Yet." ("Questions of Love – Week 5")
"All while I reach for something,/stretched out on my left side.//The
smallest of miracles,/these human, interior pulses." ("English Vocabulary: Quickening")
From anticipation and hope, Miller next takes us to that arrival and its aftermath in the section entitled "Carry."
"My head turns to one side to vomit,/jaw rattled with cold, I gasp./Your
father holds my hand, my face….//You hear my cries before I hear yours." ("Three Weeks Early")
"I knew I'd die in childbirth./(I was wrong about that too.)//Once I could
walk after the C-section/I pulled my body & IV to the bathroom….//He had been inside. Knew me the way no one else did.//What did her think of me, now?" ("I Knew")
"Such fierce hunger at my breast:/your jaw shakes side to side,/toe-starting
shiver to wail.//Finally, you settle/and I understand hunger, the loneliness of it all." ("Fierce Hunger")
"Do you have him? I/don't. I can't find him. Where is/he? Are you sleeping? ("Night Terrors")
"I was pregnant for nine weeks,/and then I wasn't.//I was pregnant for 37 weeks
and here you are.//Will I tell you, you have a sister?...//I won't say,/You are here because/she isn't.//I won't say,/Sometimes I don't/remember her."
("Sibling – eight months old")
The final section, "Apologies," deals with the lingering shame of having
miscarried. The poet apologizes for the inability to talk about it, the fact that an anticipated girl baby became a boy instead. The difficulty in
explaining her C-section to her son.
"About three and a half, you asked:/Mommy, I was scared in your belly. So
the doctor had to cut me out?//Mommy, did I like being in your belly?" ("Physical Apology")
The book closes with an epilogue entitled "Your Creation Story," which addresses the now six-year-old boy.
"It comes to this. Your creation is yours.//I was your home:/now we all
nudge you forward,/make room for you to see out.//Balancing between the creek and the trees,/we walk the pipe path.//Sometimes you run ahead, but/we keep you in our sight."
This lovely and hopeful conclusion brings a grace note of happiness and optimism to this fine collection.
For more about Viable and how it came into being, read this interview with the poet: https://bit.ly/38Naayg
To learn more about Chloe Yelena Miller and to order the book: