Trying to Feed the Baby

Trying to feed the baby
someone left on my doorstep (with a little note that says
“back in half an hour”) takes longer than expected
because she likes what I’ve prepared
but enjoys better the sloop and plosh the puree makes
when she swats or knocks it about.

She speaks in gums, an eatspeak
of earnest nonsense, and breaks loose

with excited punctuating screeches:
St. Vitus’s cherub, writhing in glee.
Then amid her latest syllabic montage
she says, “re-oxidizing”—clear as mother’s doorbell,
giving me a start.

Just that one, hard articulation
like a legbone in her word-salad
that I cut short, asking, “re-oxidizing?”
That stops her but she does not look up.

“Baby, did you just say ‘re-oxidizing?’”

The next smile is not expressive but to herself.
She looks at her red sippy-cup
breathes a few cycles
then sends it whizzing for the floor.

Questions and Answers

As a published writer, what are your tips or words of motivation for the aspiring poet?

Firstly, I would encourage new poets to bolster their reserves of patience, in terms of developing a publication record, which takes time. The excitement of inspiration and speed of initial compositions quickly downshift to a game of waiting. It can feel so frustrating to wait, possibly for a year’s time, for a publisher’s rejection. Perhaps especially with poetry, we find it difficult not to take rejections personally, but you must not let them discourage you. All writers receive rejections, at least initially.

Secondly, because for most poetry comes slowly, I would recommend trying your hand at other forms of writing as well. Experience with prose will improve your poetic efforts, by example and counter-example. My work as a technical writer and literary critic have helped me greatly in the world of poetry. One transferable influence from prose has been a useful emphasis on clarity, directness, and brevity. On the other hand, in light of other forms, I appreciate all the more deeply poetry’s tolerance for abstraction, evasiveness, and expansion.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

“Trying to Feed the Baby” recreates a personal experience in Victoria, B.C., where I live. Walking to the ocean one afternoon, I saw a couple heading my way. The woman was explaining something to her partner in a highly animated fashion. As they came near, I cocked my writerly ear, sensing that I would pick up some tidbit or tone worthy of reflection. But she spoke in such a rush of words that only one came-clear, just at the moment the couple passed me: “re-oxidizing”! I recognized the word’s poetic potential right away. I didn’t know that I would base a piece on having that word jump out at me from an otherwise unintelligible stream of speech. That moment formed the core of the poem, and sparked my invention of a mysteriously articulate infant.

This poem “Trying to Feed the Baby” originally appeared in Eclectic Mix Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 234 (Autumn 2017): 91.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.