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Poetry and Medicine
April 4, 2007

A Theory of Labor

JAMA. 2007;297(13):1411. doi:10.1001/jama.297.13.1411

for Elizabeth Rose

For the seventeenth hour
you heave and sweat
as a soon-to-be son
butts your cervix, stretched
but stuck. Desperate
to push the Otherness out,
your pelvic floor
is faltering, its muscles
contracting, even ripping
if it comes to that. So this
is the price of our taste
of fruit from the tree
of knowledge of good
and evil, the taste that built
a vault-like skull and a brain
with a place for the future.
Yes, this is the price
of narrowing the loop of bone
you stand on—no birth
without pain. Collin
butts his head against desire,
a drum you share. It's old news
we're disproportionate.
Labor doesn't make sense,
not like the swift appearance
of apes, gorillas, chimps
into this Garden
of Paradise. Daughter,
you’d think by now
God would have given up
his pique about the taste
of forbidden fruit
and softened your bed
of roses, but he hasn't yet.