Theatre of Pain (Elizabeth Spires)

In the theatre of pain where all things are born
and brought into the light,
I found myself one night, the world contracting
to a dream of world, a nightmare ocean
I waded into, wave after wave knocking me down,
holding me in pain’s undertow until I thought I’d drown.
And then a needle stopped the pain
and I was on an island where no wind blew
and no tree cast a shadow, where to feel nothing at all
was all I could desire. Somewhere a clock ticked madly
but time, for a little while, stood still
until, again, the pain broke through, all flash
and sear, and the moment slowly approached
when we would meet, meet for the first time.
With a final push you were born,
a fact engraved upon the world forever, leaving
the two of us half-drowned and clinging to the shore,
hands dragging us back from the black water.
Through corridors of birth and death we were wheeled
to a high room overlooking the city, the rising sun
tinting the clouds, the empty stadium, pink and blue,
rush hour traffic moving soundlessly down 33rd Street,
radios tuned to the morning news,
completely, most completely, unaware of you.
The shift was changing. Breakfast was being brought around.
Two nurses entered with a tray and news of the world
I’d left for a day and returned to, the paper singing
of death, only death, death in the face of life.
How often had they seen that scene before,
the common tableau of mother and sleeping newborn,
your face a perfect rose, so small, so royal?
But no, amazed, they bent over you,
lifting you high into the air,
carrying you with fanfare to the window,
streamers of light everywhere,
saying (I swear to God they said),
“Welcome to the World!”

Discussion Questions

1) How do the tone and imagery of the first half of the poem compare to the latter half?
2) The narrator hints at how the eminently special event of the birth of her child is unremarked by the majority of the world. Despite the nurses’ familiarity with childbirth, they share in the new mother’s joy and wonder. As health care professionals, how can we ensure that significant events in the lives of our patients, which we may consider to be routine, receive a response that acknowledges and respects the importance of what these events mean for our patients?

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