Simon Middleton lives in Dorset with his wife and small children. His writing has appeared in Envoi, IOTA, The Cadaverine, Firewords Quarterly and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017. His poetry has been shortlisted for The White Review's Poets Prize 2022 and The Magma Open Pamphlet Competition 2020. Simon's work was also highly commended in the Winchester Poetry Prize 2020, and has earned him the 2018 Bridport Prize's Dorset Award.
The parameters of our prenatal world
are governed by the gospel of The Pregnancy Bible
where life is measured in weeks and foodstuff.
(I feel uneasy likening embryos to food.
Like Saturn devouring his children.)
Still, Kate marks each new seven-day cycle
with a new object of comparison:
from the first, tentative days as a poppy seed
to a kidney bean, from fig to peapod to lemon.
It challenges my knowledge of fruit and vegetables.
I was scuppered at week ten,
when the baby was the size of a kumquat.
The weekly shop has become a scientific exploration
where the grocery aisle spans an installation of life.
The Bible says, 'Fully formed, head to heel,
baby will be the size of a small pumpkin.'
Near term, I find myself standing absently
at supermarket shelving, head tilted,
imagining bodily features on a melon.
Space Was a Material
Next time we see him, he is a still-life
arranged in a plastic box.
A Special Care Nurse leads us like a guide at a museum,
where we stand, examining the thin rise and fall of his back.
We stand as we did once in Hepworth’s studio,
natural light alive against whitewash walls,
our focus centred on a table with a plinth that held
the polished form of an ‘Infant’.
Remember how little air there was?
How the whole fabric of our lives seemed to fray
then re-thread, so the room felt pliant?
And how, standing before ‘Three Forms’,
we were told, For Hepworth, space was a material,
distance a quality – as much a part of the composition.
In the ward, machines draw his life on a screen
in shallow peaks, as he lies beneath a knitted sheet.
Remember how little air there was in Hepworth’s room?
Seeing the child she shaped, knowing ours was forming
in the dark of your womb. Was that the texture of longing?
Or do we feel that now? Seeing his half-strapped face.
The ventilator trunk. The scalp crowned with gingering blood.
The newness of his body mapped by wires.
Remember how the air seemed to cement, suddenly?
As we found our hands parting a break in the air,
venturing a terrified palm inside
to trace the frightening space above his tiny form,
afraid to cup a part of it, in fear we may dent the fontanelles,
disrupt the shallow concertina of his lungs.
Is this where we are now?
Feeling the material of our lives tighten around us,
as we wheel him in a tank through the world’s corridors.
Thank you for holding him while we can’t,
for keeping him safe inside your little frame,
for the solace in knowing, clear plastic crib,
that at the end of a long white corridor, you exist
to prevent his life from faltering, that an object
of such sadness, with a most beautiful name,
is there, whirring quietly like an undertide,
like a holy mother, blessed altruist.
Let’s praise these small mercies,
despite their slightness: he’s warm,
at least, we can still see him through
your transparent walls, in your crystallising
brightness, and we can pray the grey-lilac
of his newborn form will settle, that his knotted
pulse can harden, that the prone lightness
of his body will brace. Thank you,
small plastic island, for bringing him back.
Daedalus III: IOTA (Issue 98 – 'Bodies')
Space Was a Material: The Bridport Prize Anthology 2018
(Winner of the Dorset Award 2018)
Isolette: exclusive first publication by iamb