Editorial / June 2013 (Issue 21)

The Birth of a Poem

by Jason Eng Hun Lee

With yours truly expecting a new addition to the family, I have been wracking my brains for a way to write of this momentous occasion. Each day, I have been delving deeper into my murky subconscious, trying to find an image to latch onto (even the mere silhouette of one would do), and, each time, I come up empty. I always thought that the mantle of fatherhood would provide new impetus to my writing—that I would reel off one poem after another in a stream of growing paternal wisdom. How then to account for this sudden writer's block? We all know that mothers bond with their babies in utero, but, for us dads-to-be, does this separation between our unborn children go beyond mere physical and mental disconnect?

For the past few months, these thoughts have accompanied me wherever I go. Looking at fathers tending their newborn babes in their arms, I wonder how they have learnt to bond in so quick a time, and I can't help but create a narrative for each couple to offset the detachment I feel towards my own offspring. Yet, however well I might see that child through his father's eyes as they walk off together in the sunset, my own poetic efforts remain stillborn. How many poems have I aborted in the midst of this long gestation period? How many metaphors have I put together in a jumbled mass, hoping to speak to that authenticity of experience but ending up only with an aberration instead of the fully formed article?

Perusing a book on birth poems in shops, I marvel at how the poet finds the means to articulate his/her thoughts towards their child in language that gets to the heart of the matter. I too wonder how I might write of my wife's bulge as I trace the outline of her belly with my palms. How can I write of that first physical moment with my son as I swaddle him and feel his light breathing against my chest, when all I have is a mental blur, a grainy ultrasound? But recently, each time I pick up my pen, I sense within me a small skeletal hand raised tentatively in answer to my call. Half-formed, vulnerable, unable to speak, this child grows as much in me as it does in my wife, and I can feel the thumping heartbeat of a poem growing stronger as the day draws near.

Yet even now, I am trying to find ways to put this utterance into words, trying to anticipate the joys of being a father but also worrying about my own inadequacies, wondering how I might cover up my bad habits and how I might dispel the last of my juvenile thoughts. "Kill the boy in you," I tell myself, and, each time, I die a little. But then I find that my thoughts of fatherhood are inevitably tied to my own childhood experience, and that the continuity of thought that this gives me allows me to bridge the gap I feel between my unborn son and myself. It is by being my father's son that I have learnt to harness my own writing potential—as protector and protected, teacher and pupil, father and son. This new reality that grows within me also grows out of me, and, as I prepare to give sustenance to a life that is a part of all that I will be, I know that I can finally be at peace with myself, safe in the knowledge that his first emotive cry will echo loud in my ears, for as long as I shall live.

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