My two cousins, who are sisters,
both fell pregnant on the same day.
Navels ripening like blisters
they had less and less to say
unless the subject turned to birth
or hospitals or baby names.
Asked if I would photograph
them at the beach, where tiny flames
of sunburn licked around the peaks
created by their new-stretched skin
I readily agreed. Mere weeks
remained before what lay within
their matching pair of human hummocks
would emerge. A sand-white blank
was the backdrop for those stomachs
which posed together, flank to flank,
as if two tethered zeppelins
faced each other in a duel.
I thought about the keratins
and chromosomes, each one a jewel,
a matchstick-tender building-block
augmented hour by hour; I thought
of what was pulsing like a clock,
or time bomb, underneath the heart
of each of them. For under each
an eskimo slept in a crouch
as blizzards of light scoured the dense
and populous world. Yet how could
those hibernators escape
the seeming shelter they’d withstood
for endless weeks, if their shape
did not fit the tunnel they swam
to reach their sleeping-berths? Grown
to the bulk which a leg of ham
in a butcher’s window might have shown,
their presence posed the obvious
question one puts to such retired
sea captains, and those lonely boys,
whose solitude has inspired
scale-model full-rigged sailing
ships in narrow-necked bottles—who
can see one without prevailing
on the model’s builder to
explain how it might be removed?
Yet flesh is not a bottle-neck.
My first cousins, once-removed
—a term I had to go and check—
would not stay chained for long in there.
Somehow they both knew the route
which would let them breathe the air;
like sliding down a laundry chute
they’d slip head-first along a slope
which brought them to a sterile place
scented with disinfectant soap.
Photographed, each mother’s face
reflected sunlight, and concealed
the knowledge which would come to them
with childbirth. Neither face revealed
emotion. What was wrong with them?
© Jamie Grant