Poem: Precautions



Here’s a mysterious poem by Catherine Pierce about pregnancy and superstition. We were taken with the way it evokes the magical thinking that comes with vulnerability—and the places where scientific advice about prenatal health subtly shades into paranoia and misplaced faith. Pierce lets us into the speaker’s predicament but only so far, leaving the reader with a sense of heightened confusion and attentiveness to the instability of the world around us. Even the moon can seem twisted in this mindset.—Meghan O’Rourke


“It is said that any pregnant woman who is startled by a hare or rabbit is likely to give birth to a child with a hare-lip.” – Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions

First I stopped wine, gin, the sharp tang
of tequila. I stopped coffee. I stopped

swordfish. These were easy. Then I felt
slight movement inside me, light as a leaf,

and I stopped running, lest I jar something loose.
I stopped leaning forward against the sink

as I stroked on mascara. Then I stopped mascara,
so no poison could seep through my lashes.

One day I stumbled over a curb, and that evening
I burned my heeled boots. On my way

to the drugstore for vitamins, the car in front
of me skidded. I braked, swerved, lived,

and drove home. Then I stopped driving.
So many singers wailed never and baby and bleed

that I had to stop listening. I began humming
to fill the air, then felt how vibrations shook me,

and learned silence. On my morning walk,
the horse in the field across the street stared,

and in its white blaze I saw death by lightning.
I stayed home after that. The yard seemed safe

until today, when the sun’s new summer heat
muscled against my body. I imagined a great egg

poaching, so I went in and drew the curtains
for cool. I kept busy disconnecting appliances.

Then I sat still and tall in the center of my bed
until sundown. Now it’s dusk, time of quiet

and colorless light. I’m careful. I crawl to the door,
inch out into the soft, blank air. But I hear the evening

grass rustle near me. Just in time I catch myself
from turning. I wrench my head upward, and see

instead the moon rising. There’s nowhere left to look,
so I blink and blink until its twisted face is perfect.

Catherine Pierce is the author of Famous Last Words (Saturnalia, 2008) and the forthcoming The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia, 2012). She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.