Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Poetry and virgin births

I read this poem a year ago, sent out by Writer's Alamanc, and I still find it captivating. I love the way the poet takes the objective facts grounded in a given year and then transcends time and reality and individual experience. I don't know anything about the poet other than this poem. She doesn't name the year. Can you?

Reading History a Year at a Time
by Joan McIntosh from Greatest Hits: 1975-2000.
© Pudding House Publications

Lord Byron died the very year
that sperm were proved,
beyond all doubt, to be
essential to fertilization.
No more virgin births. That year
Beethoven's Choral Symphony
astounded the air. He was guided
gently to face the audience
that rose in an ovation
he couldn't hear. Tears
were everywhere. Who remembers
J.L. Prevost or J.B. Dumasor knows how they unraveled
the mystery of sperm? That same year
workers finished the Erie Canal
and Simon Bolivar was proclaimed
Emperor of Peru. The canal workers
didn't know or care about Peru
nor did they hear the "Ode to Joy."
My great-great grandmother was born
that year, to later travel the length
of the canal. Three hundred million
sperm swim up the birth canal.
A few thousand reach the oviduct.
The ovum chooses one (on rare
occasions more). Then, as usual,
life went on. Joseph Aspdin developed
Portland Cement while the U.S.
House elected John Quincy Adams when
The voters couldn't make up their minds.

We've been talking about bodily resurrection in worship, which raises (pardon the awkward verb) the question of whether we believe in it and whether whether we believe in it alters our faith. Virgin birth tends to fall into the same puzzling category. Yet, with virgin birth, there is really only one we're asked to believe in, with bodily resurrection we're asked to imagine that it could happen for everyone. Sperm are essential to fertilization, and breath is essential to life.
I was captivated yesterday by a verse of the song "Happy Ending" by Sugarland. Most of the song is predictable, but this verse seemed profound -- at least in the moment:

"We've come here with nothing
And take it with us the day we leave
The first and last breath don't matter
It's all the ones that are in-between"

Maybe it doesn't matter how we get here -- virgin birth, natural (or artificial) insemination.
And maybe it doesn't matter how we leave -- ashes to ashes, spirits within the Spirit, or reconstituted and risen molecules.
Maybe what matters is all that we do in between, whether we write symphonies or dig ditches, maybe what matters is what we create and how we live and love as we breathe.

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