by Joan Baranow

The author describes her spiritual orientation as follows: "I am a Quaker. For me, spirituality is a loving and compassionate attitude towards life. To cherish the flesh is to know God."

To learn more about the Quaker faith, see Rachel MacNair's article "A Lively Concern: the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)" in this issue.

"Dream" originally appeared in Harmony. "Conception" originally appeared in Sisterlife.

1. Dream
2. Conception
3. Six Weeks
4. Aborted
5. Nine Months
6. Birth

1. Dream

We were once as fragile
    as paper lanterns
      twirling slowly

in a closed cradle--
    and our only skill
      was not to know

of our existence.
    Born out of substance
      into metaphor,

we carry the absence of light.
    Why else would the memory
      of paradise elude us,

like the bright green snakes
    that slide into shadows?
      These words will not reclaim

the time
    when every hunger

      had its nipple.

There was once a heaven
    without mother or father,
      without sibling,

        without self.

2. Conception

Rolling through water,
crushed gently
by the blue tunnel--

father, mother
the splintered egg
softens, swells

each cell acquiring
the nub of purpose,

each breath
a bubble of flesh.
Long before
the first bones ripen,

before the leap
of synapse
when the brain

admits itself,
this flower
climbed out of the dark

for no reason
but to blossom.

3. Six Weeks

Deep in the thick
red blue
cranberry bog

the fetus
a juicy existence.

Every pore
is open,
sipping a delicious wine.


Discoveries twirl
into mysteries--
walls that caress,

sudden pink petals
in the lake,

of laughter,
from the clouds, then

a strange discipline:
that firm tug
at the navel.


Whatever wish
travels through the cortex
is answered

by physical joy.
But the fetus
wants more than this,

the fetus wants

4. Aborted

You can feel in your soft bones
a nuclear whirlwind

of which you could tell us--
but you are

to exist without
only an open mouth

filled with salt,
your tongue
a fish

angling up
for air,
for sweetness.

The elastic walls
of your room

around the instrument
that swims
through your thigh.

You reach for the hook
with your first shock
of conscious thought.

5. Nine Months

Before the storm,
    before the purple clouds
      split open, spilling

juice onto the earth,
    the sky is heavy
      and urgent,

trees hold their leaves
    still, animals dig
      deeper burrows,

and birds dart
    between branches
      into their nests.

In that one moment
    we call imminence,
      when the wind

warns the world
    to take cover
      a miracle:

a pair of butterflies
    pummel the air
      lightly, as if

death could not brush
    even the dust
      from their wings.

6. Birth

I move with Love in my womb

It is not a paradox
It lives and breathes
I can feel its great heart
Beating on my own

Sometimes Love's head
Leans on my forehead
In the air
Between brain and bone

I know it
sits in dark and sees
Light in my hair
I can feel

Its small hands in mine
Even my lips
Can feel the moist
Sound of Love's speech

A dream?

It is no paradox
It lives and breathes
Beneath the fluid hood
Hearing the sun in these woods

On a deep autumn day
Earth gives birth
The swollen grain

I emerge
Dark and bleeding
Of a seedling

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