It tells a story and one that any reader can relate to: a father rushes to the hospital for the birth of his son, and is told that the son has Down's Syndrome. Stallworthy calls it the most straightforwardly autobiographical of his poems.
Look at how the emotions shift from stanza to stanza. As the father drives to the hospital, there's a real sense of elation as he contemplates his son's birth and the passing on of new life down the generations. (I love the image of the blood running under arches of bone - a river of life, flowing from father to son across the ages.)
By the end of stanza 4 I'm all choked up when I reach this expression of love: "Welcome/to your white sheet,/my best poem." What more fitting tribute from a poet! (Stallworthy later said that the words were an unconcious echo of Ben Jonson's elegy, On My First Son):
But then there are the doctor's words to shatter his joy. "How easily the word went in -/clean as a bullet/leaving no mark on the skin,/stopping the heart within it." These words bring home the emotional impact of the news.
Isn't it just so true that at the moments of greatest trauma we feel distanced from our physical body, as if we are observing ourselves from a distance? Stallworthy compares himself to a pilot treading air after being ejected mid-air, and watching the wreck of everything from above. Part of him dies at that moment: "This was my first death".
In a sense too, there's a bereavement that he has to handle. The son of his hope and imagination is drifting away from him, to be replaced with someone who will never speak his language (in a metaphorical sense). But from that pain grows transformation and new awareness. And he realises that he'll learn a different lesson... [continues]
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