The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 3 no. 2


Penelope Shuttle

Giving Birth


Delivering this gift
requires blood,
a remote room,
the presence of overseers.

They tug a child
out of the ruins of your flesh.

Birth is not given.
It is what is taken from you;
not a gift you give
but a tax levied on you.

Not a gift but a bout
that ages both the contestants.

Like the hooked bristles of goosegrass,
the cleavers that cling to your skirt and sleeves,
birthshocks hold on tight, for years.

The raw mime of labor
is never healed,
in giving birth
the woman’s innocence goes,
loss you can’t brush away,
it clings to all your new clothes.

No longer can you be half-woman, half-bird.
Now you are all woman,
you are all given away,
your child has the wings,
can resist the pull of the earth.

You watch her rush up,
clowning her way through the cloud.

And you applaud.