No-one wants to be born at sea
but I’m a midwife, squeeze my hand,
that’s it, we’ve got this girl.
She squats, not time to push
yet. Bile rises with the swell. Breathe
through the surge, keep your head.
The baby’s well positioned, head
down, curled and smooth like a sea-
sucked pebble. That’s it, keep breathing,
squeeze those ice packs in your hands,
let’s cool the bruises down. I push
hair from her eyes, scrap of a girl,
clothes soaked in petrol. The girls
had been shoved in a dinghy, heads
barely covered, then pushed
off from the shore in a sea-
coffin. We hauled her up, women’s hands
helped from behind. We hold our breath
now for the baby. I say keep breathing
but English means nothing to this girl,
we need Arabic for breathe and girl and hand.
The translator’s sick as a dog, headed
up for fresh air on deck. The sea
swells, nearly time to push
and now she is trying not to push,
juddering through breaths
of thick fog, sick pea soup and the sea-
fire is swallowing it all, burning this girl
up so she blazes. When the head
crowns she grips, scorches my hand.
I make a cave of her face with my hands,
then tell her yes it is time to push,
it is time, I can see the head,
so push now, nearly there, breathe
through closed lips and yes girl,
push against this wave, against this sea
that would swallow us all, head out, final push
and in my hands now, a breathing girl
a beautiful girl, a salt pearl birthed at sea.
Rachel Bower is the author of Moon Milk (Valley Press) and Epistolarity and World Literature (Palgrave Macmillan). Her new collection of poems, These Mothers of Gods, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in July 2021. Rachel’s poetry and short fiction has been widely published, including in The London Magazine, The White Review, Magma, Stand and New Welsh Reader. She won The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2019/20 and the W&A Short Story Competition 2020. She is an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leeds and is currently editing an anthology with Simon Armitage (Faber & Faber).
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