As it is on Earth

You were tickled by your laughing mother
and you birthed the word love, tucking it

           under your breastplate like a charm. Or
           she wasn’t laughing and it wasn’t a tickle

and you grew a hard hide on the harm.
Every touch and every word’s a spell.

           All words are born in the body.
           All words are borne by the body.

Who cups your fontanelle
and sings into your cells – the luck

           or lack of this appalls; it forms the ill or well
           you’ll draw from all your life.

Heart has hater. Earth always has heart.
Oh I am terrified, whispers the girl

           in her ninth month, as her baby tests its heels
           against the whole world’s skin.

Sue Wootton (photo credit: Doug Lilly)

Photo by Doug Lilly

Sue Wootton was born in Wellington in 1961 and grew up there and in Whanganui. Her work has been widely anthologised and published, and her several awards include winning the Caselberg International Prize for Poetry and the NZ Poetry Society Competition, and placing second in the 2013 International Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. Sue’s debut novel, Strip, was longlisted for the Acorn Fiction Prize in the 2017 Ockham NZ Book Awards, and her fifth poetry collection, The Yield, was a finalist in the poetry category of those awards in 2018. She was the recipient of the 2018 NZSA Beatson Fellowship.

Sue lives in Dunedin where she is a PhD candidate in English and Medicine at the University of Otago. She edits the medical humanities e-zine Corpus: Conversations about Medicine and Life.

Wootton comments: ‘I’m a former physiotherapist, and it was in that work that I first began to understand the real and powerful connections between language, the imagination and recovery. This poem started from thinking about that, and then gradually became more of a meditation on chance – chance both in the sense of luck and the sense of opportunity. It’s about the luck of being born into a loving environment – or the bad luck of not – and the awesome, overwhelming, terrifying responsibilities of parenting. It’s an optimistic poem though, I think, hanging on tenaciously to the idea that it is always possible to improve on whatever cards we deal or are dealt. Heart, hater, earth: same letters, different words.’

​Poem source details >

Sue’s website
Corpus e-zine