‘The New Natalism’ and other poems by Claire Kieffer

The New Natalism

Mother is in bits
but only literally
she doesn’t find it funny at all
this new slug covered in shreds of skin
his or her own, she doesn’t know.
She doesn’t want to think
about which of those are hers
about the things she ripped out
that took on a life of their own
but from what she hears,
you have a lifetime
to get used to it.

Father is aglow
with a job well done,
he knows they say the women
do all the work, but privately he thinks
he had a little something to do with it
and that his wife’s tits
never looked better,
but maybe that’s the drink.
The lads at the pub
kept shouting the rounds

“Let’s call him Derek”
father says,
a Derek would know how to play the guitar
how to have fun
how to fix cars
how to play ball
but still save for a mortgage
on the sly.

“Let’s call him Christoph”
mother says,
and she sees handsome Christoph
bring her lilies to the retirement home
father long since
six feet under.

There is a minute of silence,
and two hundred and fifty babies are born

Father says:
“He will do great things,
let’s give him the name of a leader
Barack or Franklin
or maybe Winston”
“and why not Boris or Donald while you’re at it,
here, you know what goes really well with Miller?
Father says nothing,
the lads at the pub warned him
about pregnancy hormones.

There is a minute of silence,
And another two hundred and fifty babies are born

Mother thinks of those
Sunday afternoons
they were one,
It was love
she was sure,
she had seen it on TV.
Offscreen, white deflated penises
litter the floor
each with its own harvest of thousands of slugs,
whole cities
in a Durex.

There are minutes and minutes of silence
Thousands of babies are born.
As Mother and Father stare
At the child, they thought they’d made together
but really had made
each on their own.

Next week a hundred people will get a card in the mail
“Welcome to the world”
The card will read,
“to baby Jack”


Poem for a dead dog

Days came and days went
outside my window,
summer days
made of blue skies and green trees.
Smells of freshly cut grass and sounds of voices
tender evening chills and powerful sun streaks,
but, I did not go to meet them
for I knew they were all lies.

And in the tender evening the stones
who used to be my friends
into treacherous traps turned,
and in the blinding sun, I got lost.
Wandering up or wandering down, I do not know,
and tumbling
until old voices passed me, and I was grabbed.
Naked hands on bony pain, ascending,
Master of my path no more

I sit looking at the meaning of life,
one eye white as milk
sixteen years, the old voices said
sixteen, seventeen years
that’s the age for a dog.
And they had a meaningful ring
To them.



There will be
Still waters again
Soon enough.
Where do you see yourself
In five years?
They asked,
And she said:
“I have a right now plan”
And it worked
A treat
She turned them down.

There will be
No more rough waves
Rubbing you
On reefs of days
Full of time
And yet

There will be
Full days again
Don’t fret, friend.
It’s easy enough
Just don’t
Make waves
We will be employed
In harshly lit offices
Blinds down.

There will be
Still waters
Soon enough.
And, into untroubled souls
We will look
Like we used to look
To the very bottom
Of our grandmothers’


Lungwater love

I lie awake at night, eyes open to the imperfect darkness of the room. Hold watch as the same old shadows take their seats, the plaster flowers around the lamp dance inexplicable messages. Next to me a sleeping body; a body that loved me so during the day.
But now there is no love, there is no hate either, no nothing. He is like a stone, a warm breathing stone. He turned his back on me in his sleep. His mind has gone all into himself, and unless I wake him there will be no reassurance of his love. He is walking the fields of dreams alone; I who would follow him anywhere cannot follow him there. Where is he walking, and how far from me? When he wakes up, will he be the same; or will his nightly walks little by little change him and take him away from me? If only we could never sleep and only share manageable walks of reality. Then we would never drift apart.
But night after night he sleeps, and I lie awake feeling cold and alone like a snake. I want to climb into his dream and touch his heaving ribcage; but the sleeping body shivers and rejects me. It is the master of the ship now, no brain or heart here. It knows only needs and pains, and now it needs to rest and not to be disturbed; and it knows nothing of romanticism.
Take rest.
Take rest.
Take rest.
In the morning, flatmates wear clogs and tap-dancing shoes. Dead-fish eyes open inwards. Lungwater on the window, the only place on earth where souls mingle perfectly. Soon, the day’s first coffee will bring life into limbs again, we are at that stage of addiction where it could be cut with fentanyl for all we care. When I come home later he has made my bed, folded my pyjamas. The waking body abides.


© Claire Kieffer

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