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Starting Point

She bore a son on the run, another roadside baby


I am indebted to M. Shaun Kopeland for calling my attention to the news item in the European section of the London Times on Feb. 12, 1992. A pregnant Moslem woman living in Naples, Italy, was walking down a road when her water broke. She soon went into labor. The poem was prompted by this incident.

The water broke as I, a Moslem in
a Catholic land, was crossing the frantic Corso.
I leaned my great protruding selves against
a wall, my clothes plastered to our skin.
A black in a crowded bus with wet pants?
I still had time, so I began to walk
along the road. The terror fell at the four
mile mark, as meltdown rants
against the wave on wave of inland pain.
Galaxies of bolts protest against
the universe. I have no time as I strain
to lie upon the concrete curbing
where I will have a roadside baby.
Ladies pushing grocery carts pause,
rearranging their hair, not disturbing
vast eternal plans, they walk away.
A boy points, “Look what the nigger’s doing!”
The garbage men park the truck to collect
the decay of our humanity and stay
to see the spectacle in living color.
Not unobserved but unassisted,
I bear my son and tear away my skirt
for swaddling cloth -- Naples does not stir
and Vesuvius is silent.
You know
in the prophet’s
Somalia it is not so.

Benedictine Fr. Kilian McDonnell is president of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. He is author of The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and Cosmic Order of Salvation (Liturgical Press).

National Catholic Reporter, December 11, 1998