Newborn

About a year ago, I went to visit some friends and their hours-old baby at the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital at the riverside in Phnom Penh.  Stirred by the din of our party of four’s arrival, this little boy opened his beautiful black eyes to take us in.  “Hello, little one.”  He stared back and then closed one eye.  *LOL*  He got me thinking about what it must be like as a newborn.  Do they feel overwhelmed by this multi-sensory realm, full of new smells, noises and colour?

We often think of babies as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, with no sense of self.  And perhaps they are.  But I wanted to invert that in this poem and imagine that a newborn could form their thoughts, as an adult, self-aware and with the vocabulary to match.  I wrote out the first draft and then left it for a few months while life went on.

And then along came little P.

This newest addition to the family has been lovingly provided by my sister and brother-in-law, in the form of a beautiful baby boy who came 3 weeks early.  In actual fact, the moment my sister told me that she was pregnant, I began to miss Owotato, as I dubbed him (a conglomeration of their surname and potato).  Now, she whatsapps me photos, we google hangout and she sends me wee videos of him.  But in all honesty, what I long to do is hold him and blow air on his face!  In the meantime, this poem, which is dedicated to him, will have to suffice.

Newborn

Voices approach.
Chattering, excited.
Sweet and high.
Gravelly and low-pitched.
There’s quite a few
close to me.

Open eyes.
Foggy mist.
Shapes of different sizes
loom in. Peer.
Can’t quite make out
how many.

Perhaps if you came closer?
Too late. Out they zoom.

One of them is asking,
is it overwhelming
being a newborn?

YES! The air feels cold on my skin.
I miss the wet warmth.

Having said that,
I don’t seem to run out of room to stretch out,
I punch
and shake my fist to test it.
And – wow!
Hit nothing.

I can smell my mother’s milk.
Comforting,
amidst sharp,
sour notes surrounding me.
I twitch my nose
towards it.

I’ve begun to use my mouth to suck
and my throat to swallow. Wonderfully,
instinctively, it knows what to do.

I’m not so sure.
I am going to practise making the moves in my own time.
I want to know how.

Shadows reach in
to hold me.
Please be gentle.
It can hurt,
I try to tell them.
But they don’t seem to understand me.

Oh hello! You smell different.
What? This one likes blowing air on my face.
Stop it! I blink.

I daren’t move my head.
I’m scared,
that if I turn it to one side
I won’t be able to bring it back.

So, I turn
my eyes
to take it all in.
This cacophony of colour
and light.

Published by

Han-Na Cha

Foodie, Baker, English Language Teacher, Skills Trainer, part of Liberty Family Church, living in Phnom Penh.

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