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In her third collection of poems, Claudia Rankine creates a profoundly daring, ingeniously experimental examination of pregnancy, childbirth, and artistic expression.

Liv, an expectant mother, and her husband, Erland, are at an impasse from her reluctance to bring new life into a bewildering world. The couple's journey is charted through conversations, dreams, memories, and meditations, expanding and exploding the emotive capabilities of language and form.

A text like no other, it crosses genres, combining verse, prose, and dialogue to achieve an unparalleled understanding of creation and existence.

ISBN-13: 9780802137920

Media Type: Paperback(1ST)

Publisher: Grove/Atlantic Inc.

Publication Date: 02-13-2001

Pages: 96

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)

Series: Grove Press Poetry Series

CLAUDIA RANKINE is the author of five books of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Yale Universityas the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Submerged deeper than appetite

she bit into a freakish anatomy, the hard plastic of filiation. a fetus dream. once severed. reattached. the baby femur not fork-tender though flesh. the baby face now anchored.

What Liv would make would be called familial, not foreign. forsaken. She knew this. tried to force the scene. focus the world. in the dream. Snapping, the crisp rub of thumb to index. she was in rehearsal with everyone. loving the feel of cartilage. ponderous of damaged leaves. then only she. singing internally. only she revealed. humming. undressing a lullaby: bitterly, bitterly, sinkholes to underground streams....

In the dream waist deep. retrieving a fossilized pattern forming in attempt to prevent whispers. or poisoned regrets. reaching into reams and reams. to needle-seam a cord in the stream. as if a wish borne out of rah-rah's rude protrusion to follow the rest was sporded. split. and now hard pressed to enter the birth.

In the dream the reassembled desire to conceive wraps the tearing placenta to a walled uterus. urge formed complicit. First portraying then praying to a womb ill-fitting. she grows fat.

The drive in utero is fiction-filled. arbiter of the cut-out infant. and mainstreamed. Why birth the other, to watch the seam rip. to roughly conjoin the lacerating generations? Lineage means to step here on the likelihood of involution. then hard not to notice the depth of rot at the fleshy roots. To this outbreak of doubt. she crosses her legs. the weight of one thigh on the next. constructed rectitude. the heavy. heavy. devotion of no.


outside of thisinsulartraffic a woman in pink underlining the alias gender. who is she really? call her. could you. would you. call her. Mommy?

The hope under which Liv stood.

her craven face. it clamored. The trumpeter announced it. She stood more steady then. marveling at her stammering. hammering heart, collecting a so-invisible breath. feeling extreme. commencing. deeper than feeling was.

She wanted what he had been told she'd want. what she was. expecting. Then the expecting was also a remembering. remembering to want. She was filling her mouth up with his—

yet it was not. it was not. the sound of sucking on the edge of sleep. not soft brush of cheek. not the heat of the hand along the neck.

There is a depiction. picture. someone else's boy gorgeously scaled down. and crying out. and she not hearing. not having. not bearing Ersatz—

She was filling her mouth up with his name. yet it was not. it was not.

Liv forever approaching the boy like toddler to toy. the mothering more forged than known. the coo-coo rising air bubbles to meet colostrum. yellow. to blue. to milk. not having to learn. knowing by herself. Come closer—

in front the glare. pools in straining veins making Liv nervy. malachite half-moons on each lobe listening inward. the hormonal trash heap howling back.

There is dust from a filed nail. the wind lifts. carries it into available light: not monochromatic. not flattened though isolating. solicitous. soliciting. Come closer—

Once Liv thought pregnancy would purify. You Ersatz effacing. her pace of guilt. her site of murmur.

Then of course. of course. when do we not coincide elsewhere with the avoided path? a sharp turn toward the womb-shaped void? now

Liv is feeling in vitro. duped. a dumbness of chimes. no smiles for every child so careful. so careful.


infant. bloomed muscle of the uterine wall. you still pink in the center. resembling the saliva-slick pit of the olive. resembling tight petals of rose. assembling


This. his name was said. Afterward its expression wearing the ornate of torment. untouched by discretion. natural light or (so rumored

(and it. once roused. caused ill-ease as if kissed full on the mouth.

Herself assaulting the changing conditions. Liv added desire's stranglehold. envisaged its peculiarly pitched ache otherwise alien to her wildly incredulous hopes: Ersatz


aware of your welt-rising strokes. your accretion of theme. Liv was stirring (no. breathing the dream. She was preventing a trust from forming. still the bony attachment was gaining its tissue like a wattle-and-daub weave.


arrival is keyhole-shaped. it allows one in the assembled warren of rooms. to open the game box even as the other leans against the exposed from her freestanding. exaggerated perspective.

She is on her way in the corridor unable to enter this room and if she prays to be released from you. as one would pray to be released from tinnitus or welt. boy ridge of flesh raised by a blow.

imagine in your uncurl of spinal arch. her eye your eye. an apparition hushed to distortion. her heart unclosed. yet warped by dullness and pure feeling. her lips but a crease recrossing time. needing a softer tone.

Imagine the prayer itself


unswallowed. swollen within her lips. so grieved:


Here. Here. I am here

inadequately and feeling more and more less so because of not feeling more, but stopped. For I am of course frightened of you, what your bold face will show me of me. I am again leading to regret. I have lived, Ersatz, the confusion in my head, the fusion that keeps confusion. Could it keep you? Could it make those promises to remedy tortuous lines, thickening encroachings?

Oh, Ersatz, my own, birth is the limiting of the soul, what is trapped with it already owns. I could quadruple my intent toward you, be your first protection; but I could not wish a self on any self as yet unformed, though named and craved.


I am here. And here is not analogous to hope.

See past the birth into these eyes of yours, into what increasingly overstates resemblance, a semblance one might wish to tuck under, into the sweat of the armpit, into its wiry odor of exhaustion, remembering the self and any reflection thereof is never a thing to cradle.


were I coward enough to have you, child, coward enough to take my pain and form it into a pulsing, coming round the corner any odd day, of course, of course, I would believe you the intruder, had intruded.

Provoked, Ersatz, the best I could be would be shivering illness, mucus rising, the loud rush, the sob.

I am made uncomfortable and more so, no warmer, no closer to the everyone you are. Already the orphan, suffocating and overlapping a trillion faces—

are you utterly anywhere. have we, have we arrived anywhere.


has the rudimentary ear curled open. are you here?

The Extended Root

What comes through the bloodstream to be flushed reduces him to human even as he does not breathe, even as his lids lower to this thick beginning, one-third of an inch below the upper surface of her swirling pit. The place he fills fills with viscid fuel and yet, somehow, does not drown him in the basement membrane of her own convoluted, veined, capillary network, her own ocean of wear. Nourished, coaxed forward in the presence of her whole presence, consequence of her consequences, he is blister of ceil, grain named embryo, a climbing substance perceived, absorbing such intimacy as she can offer.

Ersatz of freehand sketchiness of hollow form

anonymous delineation of bone

of moody hue dipped in fetal city oh so neatly laid

within Liv estranged interlacing that she is

Are such seasoned movements truly without desire? Is her organized breath simply indirection as his face forms in his eggplant-purple landscape, the likeness of no other? There now is the peculiar sound of blood flowing, a soft, pulpy whoosh, aquatic, the spreading heart-shaped mouth opening into its initialed script. Darkly stained, untidy eyebrows, a mole, blemish-shaped. In the mind's eye never abandoned are the supposed markings on the boy. What is seen before his profile splinters is a face that looks and is certainly startled.

How not to smile out loud?


how not to? when in utero a fetus heartbeat bounces off. scanned vibrations of this newer soul making a self whole.

how not to? as the chilled gel brings to the screen inked in. black and white. glimpsed. scrutinized. joy.


considers this ersatz image. abracadabra and like. so like. so liked.

by him whose blush tinges with alleluias. so close to life. his dried lips licked repeatedly.

He's breathing within. but breathless in the red of the ribbon-cutting. a sunrise.

tickling giddy goodness extracting arrival. here. here is a slip of fate from a touch that felt right all over.


in the volumetric space that is him and spilling to become sundrenched. impossibly tender.

turning to Liv, love, stands in her way in tinted glasses wanting slowly to be

received by her who feels survival. its pencil movements.

even as she moves through the still traffic debating.

assuaging doubt.

What do you mean, are we sure? Just because we are pregnant doesn't mean we have to have it. What would we be waiting for? I don't know ... to be sure? Liv, are you saying you don't want to have this child? No ... no, I am not saying anything. I mean I am just saying we could still think about this a little. We still have time. Time for what? That is what I am not understanding ... Time to understand how completely, completely changed our lives will be. Well ... sure it's scary and things will change, but we will have our lives plus the baby. Others have done it. How are we so different? Look, if I can't talk to you about this, who am I to talk to? I'm sorry I'm happy. I think it will be great. I don't know what else to say.

Coherence in Consequence

Imagine them in black, the morning heat losing within this day that floats. And always there is the being, and the not-seeing on their way to—

The days they approach and their sharpest aches will wrap experience until knowledge is translucent, the frost on which they find themselves slipping. Never mind the loose mindless grip of their forms reflected in the eye-watering hues of the surface, these two will survive in their capacity to meet, to hold the other beneath the plummeting, in the depths below each step full of avoidance. What they create will be held up, will resume: the appetite is bigger than joy. indestructible. for never was it independent from who they are. who will be.

Were we ever to arrive at knowing the other as the same pulsing compassion would break the most orthodox heart.

An Intimate Look at the Night Sky

By Chet Raymo

Walker & Company

Copyright © 2001 Chet Raymo. All rights reserved.