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Joan Barasovska lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She cohosts a poetry series at the independent bookstore Flyleaf Books and serves on the Board of the North Carolina Poetry Society. For thirty years, Joan has been an academic therapist in private practice. Her poems have appeared in Kakalak, San Pedro River Review, Flying South, Madness Muse Press, Red Fez, Speckled Trout Review, and The Main Street Rag. In 2020 Joan was nominated for Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize. Birthing Age (Finishing Line Press, 2018) was her first book of poetry.
In the delivery room a dreadful hush descends and Joan Barasovska, gazing upon her firstborn, prays to be the mother she will need. Joan’s poems chronicle Clare’s heart-wrenching early years: uncertainty, pain, hard-won victories. But this collection is less about the daughter than the mother as she discovers power in weakness. In the end the family, and the reader, is refined and redeemed, as Joan puts it, in the crucible of fear and love. ~Bill Griffin, author of Snake Den Ridge, a Bestiary
In a voice that never shifts to self-pity, never claims heroism, Barasovska describes her daughter Clare’s childhood of debilitating illness and frequent surgeries, and a family buffeted by “cycles of crisis and recovery, terror and tentative relief.” She longs to offer her daughter “ordinary everything, the intact body of a healthy child,” and understands that Clare derives strength partly by “muscling hard against me.” These beautiful and harrowing poems will move you, and stay with you. ~Janis Harrington, author of Waiting for the Hurricane
Mystery conceived in passion
spreads a tent inside my body,
scoops out space
I’d blithely claimed as mine.
I grow heavy with her campsite
and the gear we’ve taken on.
After work each day I buy
a secret chocolate éclair
and eat it at Nelson’s Bakery,
where I’ll soon show off my baby.
Her father grants me
naming rights if it’s a girl.
On a cold day at the beach,
jacket straining to span my belly,
with one booted foot I trace
her name in giant letters
in wet sand: CLARE.
I pray this hidden daughter,
now assembling all she’ll require,
will live to be my better self,
take chances I could never take.
I pray for a safe birth.
I pray to be the mother she will need.
Her father and I wait for March.
He says she could easily be a boy,
but our daughter’s eyes, not yet open,
greedily seek mine.
Ten-day-old Clare wails on an X-ray table,
her tiny ovaries protected, but she’s naked
on metal, flailing under strange light.
I sit rigid against the wall.
No one ever called me strong.
Fragile, even frail, a waif
without endurance. Not strong.
People have had to rescue me.
My baby’s body is red from screaming,
her back arched, skull uncradled.
I croon to her, my breasts leak for her,
but in her agony I can’t yet save her.
The technician finishes at last.
I dress and swaddle Clare,
give her my breast,
sate her with my power.
If only I could hold her whole
as she was when my body carried her,
but we’re far beyond that.
A port-a-cath protrudes from Clare’s chest,
hidden under her crisp school blouse.
Her surgical scars stay bandaged and secret.
She smashes homework in the trashcan,
provokes her brother, stomps, storms,
shouts I hate you! at me.
If only I could seal my girl’s body against
illness and intrusion, swaddle her, cradle
her again in my mother’s rocking chair.
Too much is denied her,
missed when she’s sick at home
or suffering in the hospital. I hate this.
If only I could offer her ordinary everything,
the intact body of a healthy child. She kicks
against the confines of her difference.
When her lost doll is found broken
Clare hurls it across the room.