This was meant to be my son’s 2nd birthday poem for last year, but I had so much difficulty with figuring out how to approach it that I ended up abandoning the effort while I still had time to write something else, which led me to compose “Lines to My Son” instead. Even after a year of visiting and revisiting this poem, recording notes, and writing and scrapping lines, I still found it difficult to figure out how to approach putting it together right up to the last word. There are two things I wanted to tie into it: One, a series of first-time events leading up to my son’s first word; and, two, his fascination with all sources of light right from the first time he opened his eyes.
The first time I saw you
is when you first came to light.
You breached red shadows
and struggled for breath,
managing only a strangled
wheeze—your first breath
constricted by thick meconium.
Your eyes were squeezed shut
as nurses vacuumed tar from
your bronchia, clearing the way
for air to brush past tiny round
leaves deep within your chest.
Then for the first time you cried,
a sound that rattled, lightly shaken
from your inmost branches.
Wrapped in sterile rags, you
were handed to me, and for
the first time I held you, peering
down into your face. I saw there
in your pure pink features, light
radiating from some place beyond
time, reason, comprehension,
piercing through to the deepest,
darkest caverns of my being.
Unsure how best to safely set
you down, I passed you back
to the nurse, who placed you,
tightly wrapped, in a sturdy
wooden bassinet. Exhausted,
you drifted off to dream new
shades of light for the first time
outside the womb, eyes still closed.
When your eyes did open, I was
there, waiting for that first look
into your uncolored gaze. You
took slow sips of the world, orbs
rolling around the nursery until
finally they settled on the wide
amber light that warmed your blood.
After a few days, once your mother
recovered enough, we took you home
and saw to your needs. Meanwhile,
you dedicated the bulk of your efforts
to the arcane arts of movement,
struggling against gravity until at long
last you rolled for the first time
from your belly to face the light.
Before long, you began to discover
deep in your solidifying soul
a hidden power, a resonating
determination to pull yourself up
from prone toward all those many
lights that drew your eyes. You
began with the smallest motion, yet
for you still an effort rivaling colossal
feats of Olympian might. Then
after weeks of training and strain,
for the first time you sat up
all on your own.
You looked surprised at first, not
quite believing your success,
then slowly you looked up, face
gleaming a smile of pure triumph,
a hue that soon returned to radiant
resolve as you set your mind
to the enormous task of learning
Months passed. You mastered
the craft of rolling, crawling and
laughter until one day I looked
and for the first time saw you fully
upright at the edge of your playpen,
eyes vibrant with concentration,
knees wobbling. With one hand
you steadied new-found balance.
The other reached up toward
light that fell from the floor lamp.
Perhaps on finding your feet
you began to realize a sense
of potential, for your first few steps
soon followed, shaky, arms
outstretched, fingers feeling out
the way. Often you would let go
and for a moment stand free,
wavering like an aspen before
collapsing back to your bottom,
eyes cast up toward visions of light.
Time phased and shifted behind
my sleepless eyes, then suddenly,
in the middle of the living room,
through epic endeavor you rose
to your feet and took three small,
trembling steps across the floor,
hands grasping at only the air. As
you returned to hands and knees,
you lifted your head to study three
bright bulbs suspended beneath
the blur of ceiling fan blades.
Slowly, your steps grew stronger,
more steady. You pushed a walker
this way and that, reveling in your
newfound powers of ambulation.
It was around this time we realized
your amorphic syllables had begun
to take on the first hues of language,
for every time you entered a room
you would point to the fixture
centered in the ceiling and exclaim,
Which a few weeks later we finally
discerned to be your first real word,
My hope was to elicit a sense of wonder and amazement from the reader similar to what I experienced as I witnessed these first-time events myself without once having to use an, “I felt blah blah blah,” expository statement toward this end. I don’t feel confident about the outcome, however. For me, all poems are a work in progress, so there is every likeliness that I’ll one day come back and try to improve upon it.
There is still some time to spare before his 3rd birthday, so this may or may not end up being this year’s birthday poem. I’m hoping I’ll find the time and inspiration to write something else instead, but we’ll see.