Friday, 14 May 2010

Always Giving Birth

It is a great deal of work, this birthing, and to have the moment captured in green stone forever is a gift. 

Ephemeral, the art of birthing, yet not transitory in the sense of most things: decisive, rather, a collapse of the wave function, a world-shaping day. Either I will die, or the child will die, or the child will be born quite fully. It has always been this way, and it will always be this way.

I have more in common with this stone hewn woman than I have with the books my children bring home from school libraries. I have this child caught in descent, my vulva filled up with you; I have that true friend who is gripping me from behind, between my breasts and my collarbone, head turned to sky. I have that urgent inward look carved upon my face.

The troubled hair is not as eternal as the smooth stone and certain lines, from the sure fingers on my lap to the curl of the hood, moving toward my spine. Animal substances will die away, much more rapidly than the flesh and bone of the earth, and the dust that is captured there feels just like my heart. What begins clean and crisp, if uncertain, eventually becomes gummy, dull, and less attractive than it was. But still—what? Serviceable?

I wonder if the artist, circa 1968, thought ahead to my visit of 2008, and worried—even for a moment—about his hair? The fine feathers he used, so bright back then.  I have more in common with the passing art sellers, who approach me when I leave the museum and—feeling faint—sit down to rest on a bench outside, than I have with the people who make the legislation that governs our lives.

By 1968, I'd already stood on the hilltop with my grandmother, watching the Voyageur paddling up the river, feeling her pride: I'd already looked through the dusty train window, at the insistence of my mother, watching the transformative appearance of Mountain from what clearly presented as Coal Pile.  Prairie to mountain, mountain to coast, coast to the great lakes region, all the way back: lifelong migrations. 

By 2008, I have already travelled from my home on Lulu Island to gambol with you on the shores of Baffin Island, Frobisher Bay.  From a sandy accretion in the west to a lichen-dressed tremendous pile of rock in the east, all falling away, I become dizzy enough to sit down for a moment. Having you sit down beside me, a real gift. 

You tell me you usually run this way, that sitting long enough to watch the small birds bathe is a boon. I tell you I never tried to come North again, after the assault in the bush and my turning away. Back then I wrote about myself as rockpiles, today I write of myself as a small flock of birds: still, ideally, we are stone people, always giving birth.

Inspired by a visit to Iqaluit in 2008, reflecting on the sculpture Woman Giving Birth by Elijah Michael, Kimmirut, circa 1968 & my own circumstance. Michael's sculpture is currently housed at Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, pictured here in postcard form.

Elijah Michael bio: Inuit Art Quarterly, "In Memoriam", p.46, Vol. 23, No. 3, Fall 2008, online here: