Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
—Sylvia Plath—"Morning Song"
The child has a name now. Udoka Julian Melayo Ogbuji. Udoka means roughly "peace reigns". As with many Igbo names, it has a couple of levels of meaning for us, mostly as a hope for unlikely peace in a household with three boys, and partly as an imprecation for peace in troubled times, globally. It's shortened to "Udo", pronounced "oo-doh" with stress on the second syllable. Julian follows from the month (I suppose Jide could have been "August", but we preferred "Maxwell"). Melayo means roughly "relax", and is my father's contribution. We were all hoping for a girl, and even though it's a boy, we're all easy like Sunday morning.
And so speaking of mornings, what better poem for the mood than one of my favorite Plath pieces, another discovery from my favorite small poetry book, John Wain's Anthology of Modern Poetry (Hutchinson, 1963), ISBN 0090671317, which I've mentioned before. I love reciting "Morning Song" to my children at bedtime, and doubly so with the roseate memory of Udoka's birth still fresh. One thing about reciting it is that I cannot bring myself to say "New statue. In a drafty museum,...". I always end up saying: "New statue in a drafty museum,..." Another thing is the lovely, last metaphor, the vivid synaesthesia that is so typical of Plath's keen sensibility. It's a very romanticized fallacy of a newborn baby's very nasal cry, but also a very crafty expression of the fact that this sound is music to any parent's ears. And the images in this poem just keep coming at you like, well, like purple pila. I'm not one for image for the sake of image, but Plath is one of the few with the craft to pull it off, as I discussed earlier.
And in honor of Lori, who brought Udoka forth to the world, here's another poem in the genus.
I'm a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf's big with its yeasty rising.
Money's new-minted in this fat purse.
I'm a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I've eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there's no getting off.