In this week’s Personal History section of The New Yorker, Daniel Raeburn writes of his daughter who was born four days after she died. More than eight months into their pregnancy, Raeburn and his wife Rebekah learn that their baby girl—already named Irene by Raeburn (“Her name came to me in the night as I was falling asleep, her hands and her feet drumming against Rebekah’s belly and my palms. Good night, Irene, I thought, I’ll see you in my dreams. I didn’t know anything about this song other than the chorus, which haunted me just as a song is intended to”) has inexplicably died in her mother’s womb. Opting to remove Irene through childbirth, the couple endures hours of anguish, knowing that theirs will be a silent baby, still and lifeless. Their grief is insurmountable and radiates from the page.
In the hospital room, Raeburn recalls being told that, “William Carlos Wiliams was sitting by the bed of one of his patients when she died. He turned to look out the window and saw a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside white chickens.” Following this legend, “The Red Wheelbarrow” becomes infused with sadness, and can be seen as an attempt to mitigate grief by finding solace in quotidian details (I’ve included “The Red Wheelbarrow” at the end of this post for those of you who are not familiar with the works of WCW). So much does, indeed, depend on it. Yet the grief is too great for Raeburn and his ordinary is encroached upon by the surreal: “I saw a salt-stained sidewalk under the funnel of a street lamp, a beige plastic armrest beside a blue blanket, my left foot in a black boot slipping in my wife’s red blood.” But, clearly, I’m straying from my point. This is a much longer discussion that we can have at a later time.
The point of my post follows:
The essay is entitled “Vessel, Irene Raeburn: born December 28, 2004; died December 24, 2004,” and it’s truly heart-wrenching. It left me a sobbing mess. Read it.
"The Red Wheelbarrow"
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white