by Susan O’Dell Underwood
In the night what else can you wonder
wide awake besides what a wonder, this pain?
What else can distract the suffering but to think
travail, an old word before antibiotics, like paregoric,
camphor, laudanum—numb, numb, numb.
The only solace:
Invent some woman otherwise who lived before.
Inhabit the cells of her brain and body
away from the solitary body
you find uninhabitable.
No place besides her to reside except inside your guts,
the swollen, waddling, wadded up
loneliness of affliction.
So pick up where the wagon wheels rut red earth,
the way babies being born will etch the inside
of their mothers’ pelvis bones,
skulls rasping against the cradling ache.
In the morning, she pitches out dirty, bloodied water
onto the prairie wind, waiting.
Waiting on the elaborate sun to do its damnedest,
she tends to every tenderness—
kneading dough, stitching tomorrow’s comfort
with a tiny needle, stirring the pot in silence, trying
to trust the sureness of years against certain demise.
She goes ahead,
in the back of some jalopy or cart, or on some mule,
or walking across clods, captive
to the jolt of blood and urine
within her body, the only place a woman can live.
At night under her sweaty farmer husband,
too soon after birth, too often to heal,
she is blinded, as you close your eyes,
by the blindness of will.
SUSAN O’DELL UNDERWOOD directs the creative writing majors within the English Department at Carson-Newman University near Knoxville, Tennessee. Besides two chapbooks, she has a full-length collection, The Book of Awe. Her poems and nonfiction appear and are forthcoming in a variety of journals and anthologies, including A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia (University of Georgia Press), Crab Orchard Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and Ecotone.
Featured Image: “Infection” by R. Halfpaap