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All the Colors of Might Have Been

And for some nights she whimpered as she dreamed
The dead thing spoke, saying: "Do not recall
Pleasure at my conception. I am redeemed
From pain and sorrow. Mourn rather for all
Who breathlessly issue from the bone gates,
The gates of horn,
For truly it is best of all the fates
Not to be born."

Anthony Hecht, "The Vow"


I should be relieved. We're not ready for a child right now. Kathy's in Pittsburgh: I'm in New Jersey taking care of her disabled mother and sorting out her late father's estate while we figure out what happens next. We thought several years of estrogen and androgen blockers were all the birth control we needed. Finding out otherwise was the latest gotcha in a year chock full of bad surprises. And while we're both pro-choice, we're also Catholic enough that abortion was never an option for either of us. 

I should be relieved. Kathy is fine, or as fine as one can be in the circumstances.  She's resting now. I'm sitting at her computer browsing Wikipedia. We hadn't announced the pregnancy yet: we both knew this could happen. But that means explaining why I'm in Pittsburgh would be complicated, so all my chat programs are off.  I'm not feeling talkative anyway. Across the valley the lights of downtown Pittsburgh glow sulfurous through the smog. Kathy stirs. I can't tell if she's snoring or sobbing in her sleep. Maybe both. 

I should be relieved. But I'm just numb.   


On this bald hill the new year hones its edge.
Faceless and pale as china 
The round sky goes on minding its business. 
Your absence is inconspicuous; 
Nobody can tell what I lack...

Southward, over Kentish Town, an ashen smudge
Swaddles roof and tree.
It could be a snowfield or a cloudbank.
I suppose it's pointless to think of you at all.
Already your doll grip lets go.

Sylvia Plath, "Parliament Hill Fields"


A second home pregnancy test is positive. After a year of trying maybe this is something more than another late period. Our congratulatory hug is awkward, almost formal. We're excited but not too excited. We've discussed our options and know none are certain. We have steeled ourselves for disappointment: we have agreed to stop when it becomes too painful to continue. We are ready for the worst and careful not to hope overmuch for the best.

Loki said he would give us a child but he says a lot of things. The turn of the cards, the fall of the runes, the whispers echoing in your head; they all can deceive you. Sometimes you make them say what you want to hear. Sometimes they turn on you and make your delusions the engine of your destruction.  Loki and life both have a penchant for cruel jokes.  If you get too complacent everything can slip away like piss off a plus sign.


Forgive me if I had no words that night
but I was wondering in the silence still
begetting silence whether to console you
if I consoled you it would make the loss
your loss and so we laid beside ourselves
a while because I had no words until
our bodies folded shut our bodies closed
around hope like a book preserving petals
a book we did not open till the morning when
we found hope dry and brittle but intact

Amit Majmudar, "The Miscarriage" 


It's just spotting after intercourse.  It's normal at 13 weeks, that's what the midwife said, nothing to worry about, if the flow gets heavier or you experience cramping call us back. They've been on top of things since Kathy's first appointment. We have insurance this time, which means access to decent prenatal care this time. Things are different now. There's nothing to worry about. 

Kathy lays in our bed with her legs drawn up and her arms crossed over her belly. Light from the St. Gerard Majella candle stretches out toward her. In Vodou St. Gerard Majella represents Ghede, the foul-mouthed cemetery spirit who also watches over children. In Roman Catholicism he's the patron saint of, among other things, expectant mothers and difficult childbirth. In Haitian tradition, she has petitioned him under both names.  

There's a hollow rattle in her voice I've never heard before.  

"If we lose this baby I'm going to be in a very bad place."

"Everything is going to be all right." I put my arm around her and pull her close. Her knees press against my thigh: I can feel the bones through her skin. 


The light beats upon me.
I am startled--
a split leaf crackles on the paved floor--
I am anguished--defeated.

A slight wind shakes the seed-pods--
my thoughts are spent
as the black seeds.
My thoughts tear me, 
I dread their fever.
I am scattered in its whirl.
I am scattered like
the hot shrivelled seeds.

H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), "Mid-Day" 


We're watching a show about East Germany's doping program, about the young female athletes given testosterone without their knowledge. Kathy is sitting in the easy chair. Her belly is starting to show at 20 weeks, just three weeks from the age a premature baby can survive outside the womb. I'm worried how she will react as a former Olympic swimmer describes her miscarriage in flat German-inflected English. 

"I am bleeding and I cannot stop it. I am screaming and screaming and still it does not stop." 

"Are you all right, K?" my mother-in-law asks. And I realize I'm trembling so hard my teeth are chattering.


Wenn man dir dein Herzgefühl
Gibt zurück als leeren Schall;

Hörst du doch von Felsen auch
Deiner Klage Widerhall;

Und dich kann beschwichtigen
Ein geschwätz'ger Wasserfall.

Und wenn ein empfundnes Wort
Einmal mitkommt unterm Schwall;

Ists, alsob dir unverhofft
Säng' im Busch die Nachtigall.

(When you feel your heart
come back to you like an empty sound;

You can hear in the rocks
the echo of your complaint;

And you can soothe
a garrulous waterfall.

And when you hear a word
That comes over you like a flood;

Then, when you do not expect it
The nightingale sings in the bushes).

Friedrich Rückert, "Kindertodtenlieder, Kapitel 134"


I must make arrangements for the swing and the play yard and the blankets and the clothes and the car seat.  There must be no jagged edges left behind to rip us open. Kathy was half a step from screaming when she left the hospital. She will be in no shape to handle the cleanup if...   

Annamaria sleeps soundly as I make arrangements for her death. Under the bilirubin lights her skin is grey as a bruise. Perhaps there is a faint tint of pink-tinged lilac now, perhaps the jaundice is clearing up, perhaps things aren't as bad as the ambulance trip led us to believe. I can't let myself relax.  I have to be prepared if the worst happens and everything ends here.

Inhale four, pause for four: exhale four, pause for four. Focus on the black and white linoleum squares, on the hospital bed beside the blue-lit crystal cradle, on the alarms sitting idle beside the monitors. Inhale four, pause for four: exhale four, pause for four.  

Annamaria nurses in her sleep:  the nurse with the pink scrubs comes in. 

"We've got some test results back, and we're seeing definite improvement. The doctor will want to see her in the morning to make sure everything is OK. But right now it looks like she should be going home tomorrow."

After she leaves I manage to change a diaper, send Kathy a text message and make it to the bathroom before I collapse sobbing to the floor. 


Through the unknown, unremembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river
he voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"


Beyond the black walnut the turnpike hisses in the cold November night.  From the distance several interstates rumble their sympathies.  Your sister holds Mr. Bear as she sleeps.  I wonder who you would have clutched for comfort against the darkness. Would you have inherited my eyes, my smile, my curiosity, my madness?  You are all potential without possibility, my little Angelito. You are all questions without answers. 

The sky glows like hot cast iron. The light from Newark and Manhattan has swallowed the stars.  When I look out the window I can see you amidst the smudges of cloud. You are clothed not in flesh but in all the bright and aching colors of might have been. You dance resplendent across sky and across ocean and across the abyss between what we have and what we have lost. 

Last modified on

Writer, columnist, and interviewer Kenaz Filan is an initiate of Societe La Belle Venus #2. Her most recent book The Power of the Poppy was published by Inner Traditions in 2011.


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Sunday, 18 November 2012

    This is breathtaking, in every sense of the word. May Gaia guard and keep your lovely daughter; I mourn for your unfurled buds while I rejoice for the hope fulfilled that has now blossomed in your family's life.

  • Janet Boyer
    Janet Boyer Wednesday, 21 November 2012

    Wow. Thank you for sharing such a moving, deeply-felt, raw piece of your life with us. (I live an hour south of Pittsburgh; I almost felt I could "see" you). May you all be protected, safe and healthy.

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