Poetry | Water Birth by Rachel Bower


    Rachel Bower

    Water Birth

    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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