What to Expect when you're not Expecting

When I first started telling friends that my wife and I were pregnant with our older daughter, my wife would shoot me a look to remind me that only one of us, technically, was pregnant.


So I can’t help but feel the pettiest of joys in the fact that my four-year-old happens to believe that while her older sister was born in the most conventional of ways (uterus, birth canal), she somehow managed to emerge out of my stomach.


Furthermore, every time I tell some story about something that happened back in college, my younger daughter will nod her head and say, Yeah, I remember that because I was in your belly back then.


According to my four-year-old, not only did she gestate inside of my womb for the typical three trimesters, but she has always always been inside of me.


I can’t help but see this as a metaphor for writing.


Most poets write the same poem over and over, wrote Richard Hugo, and no matter how much I try to vary my subjects I always end up tackling the same concerns, delving into the same life-long mysteries that have always been burning inside of me – as though every poem is leading me closer towards finding my essential face.


To complicate the matter, though, ever since my four-year-old watched Happy Feet last year, she has been convinced that at some point during the pregnancy, I removed her from my womb and placed her inside of penguin egg until it was time to hatch.


And, ridiculous as that sounds, this too feels like an apt metaphor for writing.

Poetry might very well be a labor of love, but it is not an active labor – we cannot push our poems out.


Instead, we must let them incubate – churn around below the threshold of consciousness, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes – while simultaneously guarding and nurturing them as they develop, until they are too restless for the brittle containers of our design, until they are itching to break free and chip their way their out.


And what a delicate delight, then, to watch these miraculous little things waddle away from us, as we pray from the depths of our beings that they will survive the cold of this world on their own.

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About the Author

Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters.

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by Ben Berman


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