Mail from My Pregnant Daughter

by John Steffler

copyright ©2010 by John Steffler

An envelope with your rounded printing. I take out
a card of Henri Rousseau’s Child with Doll
the stocky worried girl in a red dress, clutching
a worried doll, listening, knowing the whole
landscape is going to erupt through her, life
will depend on her –

                    then your twelve-week
ultrasound with its five night-blue images
framed in calibrations and ID.
I have albums tracing your quick expressions back
to your infancy, but here I’m looking at moonlight
falling into an excavated grave. Or is it
a distant galaxy? The small gathering bones
glow where faint light picks them out,
a constellation of vertebrae. Hubble
portrait. Reverse grave.

                    What a woman holds –
river of earth from the Milky Way, where we hatch,
to which we return. From my unwinding whorl I’m looking
through your night sky at forming stars.
Inside those I can almost see smaller stars.

Notes on the Poem

We remarked in a previous Poem of the Week installment on the visual power of John Steffler's poems, when we considered a sequence from his poem "Once" that reminded us of snapshots. "Mail from My Pregnant Daughter", another selection from Steffler's 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlisted collection Lookout, has its own unique visual potency, aided by some specific images that are intriguing and unforgettable. Three images work within this poem to build to a surprisingly profound denouement - surprising simply because the poem begins with the benign action of opening an envelope. Then again, perhaps the physical action of opening a paper envelope has become somewhat more rare and potentially momentous, even in the time since this poem and collection were published in 2010. The poem's first image is contained in this envelope. While the child and her doll do indeed both look "worried", the image charms and intrigues ... both the narrator and us readers. The second image is a series of ultrasounds capturing a pregnancy - not just any pregnancy, but the narrator's daughter's - at 12 weeks. It's both intimate and significant, even though the narrator seems to figuratively hold it at bemused arm's length with observations such as: "its five night-blue images framed in calibrations and ID" and "here I'm looking at moonlight falling into an excavated grave. Or is it a distant galaxy?" It's with the third image that the narrator's thorny but endearing meditation on life and mortality comes to its emotionally resonant conclusion. The narrator seems to have found the initially elusive balance of the universal with the personal, via a path staked with strikingly meaningful imagery.

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