Kerry Ryan



We lumbered and dragged, all last January,
through chipper rooms, our exhaustion staining
crisp white chic. Mecca for preggos, all of us laden,
trailing behind bellies punched through parkas,
splitting zippers. Babies roiling, elbows, fists, visibly rippling
like swallowed panic. A sisterhood that avoided
eye contact, so sick of everyone looking at our ring fingers
and Starbucks cups. Together, among tea lights,
glossed particle board, we lost our novelty –
zoo animals released into DIY wild.

Our baby daddies hauled us out of deep corners
of chesterfields, carried the stubby pencils
we would use to compose our birth plans.
Pencils without erasers because there was no turning back.
We called it date night and ate cheap meatballs
off plastic trays then tested the camber of rocking chairs,
lifted imaginary children from hacked-up floor model cribs
while the real ones bounced us backward from the rails,
grabbing at air.

We made checkmarks on to do lists until having a baby
was just something to be arranged. Tidy, manageable,
vaguely European. Our hearts were spaces
to be measured and filled, family nothing more
than components loaded onto a warehouse dolly,
assembled with an Allen key. We even believed
white carpeting was a good idea as we lined up
one by one at the check-out, waiting, hugging
thumbed catalogues.




The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months of age and continued breastfeeding, with appropriate complementary foods, for up to two years or beyond.


You talk around my nipple like it’s a cigar and you’re Groucho:
bunny? blankie? Brown Bear, Brown Bear? Incisors testing
with every consonant. Smile of pearled blades.

I toe the carpet, rock our chair and you reach over my shoulder
for the moon through the double-pane. You insist, first, on seeing a dog
long gone from the back lane, then the forced air rattling through the vent.

I stroke under your chin, a reminder to swallow, of the work we
must do, and you squiggle your fingers into the pinch bowl
at the base of my throat, wait for what Simon Says next.

One breast keeling over the lip of my bra, the other dangling
and you clap it emphatically. Mine! And even though I see your point –
birth right, squatter’s rights – I refuse to give you this, too.





I feel your fever even before I open the door –
like a room on fire, doorknob scorched. I lift you
from the crib, read your temperature with my cheek
an inch from your forehead. You pour over my shoulder,
blazing through fuzzy jammies.

I know this is nothing: a two-day flu, some ordinary virus
just trying to make a living, but I hate it for every minute
it takes you from me. The afternoon collapses, listless
without your busy voice, your peppering questions.
The house a ghost town without the clipped tick-tock
of your bare feet, your trail of unloved socks. I miss you
even as I strain under your weight.

I give you all the medicine I know: the frame of my body –
Deltoid, Trapezius, Latissimis dorsi – and You Are My Sunshine,
soft, off-key, repeated until my own throat flames.





Where is the cough, on a scale from lizard whisper
to junior high marching band warm-up?

And how often? I mean, how often does she not cough?
Is anything expectorated, such as colourful magician’s handkerchiefs
tied corner to corner?

How many degrees is the fever? (Are the child’s garments
non-combustible? When was the last time you checked
the batteries in your smoke detector?)

What best describes the rash:
          The infinite universe, where skin is cloudless
          sky, rash fine tines of stars.
          A tossed bridal bouquet, unraveled the morning after.
          Seedless raspberry jam, advancing

Does it itch?

Using the colour wheel, create a palette
that includes all recent stools. Next, build a 3-D model
that shows consistency and frequency.

How long have these symptoms persisted?

How long since you last googled them?

How long since you’ve slept, and thoroughly enough to forget
you are a mother?



Kerry Ryan has published two books of poetry: The Sleeping Life (The Muses’ Company, 2008) and Vs. (Anvil, 2010), a finalist for the Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry. Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies and she recently published an essay in The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood (Goose Lane, 2014). She is the 2014 winner of the Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest.

2 Replies to “Kerry Ryan”

  1. Absolute truth! You have nailed (so to speak) motherhood/parenthood. Thank you for the reminders; I miss all of it. All!

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