From in vitro by Laura Solomon

The Latest Lighthouse Keeper

The lamp no longer shines. It's been disconnected since time immemorial. Cut off.
This place has been long abandoned. Only an idiot would take up residence here.
We choose, of course. We are not forced.

There could've been another way.
Rust coats my stained fingers as I climb the iron stairs.
Some come for the view - me, I'm here for the ghosts.

On this first night, at midnight they show up;
As predictable as clichés - the pale ones in billowing white nightgowns,
The multi-coloured guys - green, purple with green rings, green with yellow rings,
any combination, in fact, of ring and base colour, you might care to dream up.

So strange. The lovely ancient lace, browning now at the edges,
the beads that hem the garments. The fancier ones sport feathers.

They are from all the centuries. They come marching in, like saints -
an invisible orchestra keeps the beat. Ghostly music enchants the air -
like the scent of flowers from some other-worldly garden.

Anybody else would run screaming.
Me, I keep very silent. Me, I keep very still.
I have always loved a parade.

This is the most excitement I've had in decades.

Even before they depart, I'm down on my knees, praying, saying,
O when will you return?

But they have other visits to make -
it's over, now, my turn.

In Vitro

My children are made by me, but borne by others.
The pain of childbirth holds no appeal; the screeching, the tearing, the blood,
the whole world drowned in amniotic fluid. A flood.
The subsequent stitches of brightly coloured thread.

How infinitely preferable to breed them in a petri dish,
pinch of you, grain of me, eye of something-or-other - behold, the mighty zygote.
Nothing is left to chance, I plan it all according to the law that I was handed down.
Aim, Method, Results, Conclusion - a fourth form experiment of sorts.

You can call me clinical, I don't care. I don't believe in accidents. Fate is for fools.
My pristine white coat, my catheter of silicone, the blank white walls of the lab;
these instruments of creation are all I've ever known.

This is the way a world begins - manufactured in a room where there are no seasons.

There is not one mother, but many.
Fresh girls are a dime a dozen in this neck of the woods.
Where do they come from? I hear you ask. Your steady little supply.
Please, allow me to reply. These girls are found all over.
Some I discover out on the street, perched in doorways or gutters,
some advertise in the local paper, 'Womb For Rent', in bold black type,
some I kidnap in broad daylight or by the pale glare of the moon. Slave trade.

Some girls are cheaper than others.

One by one, they climb onto my table. I plant those little lives.

I monitor the mothers, pump them full of fish oils, vitamins, milk,
snatch cigarettes from their mouths, take the vodka from their hands.
"Mind how you go," I say. "You girls need to be careful now.
Enough of your skylarking."
I poke and prod and scan. All goes according to plan.

"A splendid diagnosis," I solemnly declare, with voice pitched low to hide my fear.

Once the cells are implanted, I chart their progress, watch them grow.
I tend to them as you would to a garden,
count up the weeks in staggered steps, a rocket launch in reverse.
There are important milestones. For instance -
week six, when the hearts start up and the tadpole tails shrink.
The vanishing reminder of our amphibian roots.
Week seven, when they sprout spinal cords and brains.
A branching nervous system. They are not yet old enough to feel pain.
They will learn to tell the difference between dark and light
and at week thirty-nine they are ready for life.

They could be born at any time.

When I am least prepared, they arrive,
a great rush - multiple mothers, multiple births,
in a gush the waters break -
an army of them, all up and down the hospital ward,
all lungs fill with air,
the shout goes out, a unanimous cry,
as myriad tiny eyes see daylight for the first time.

Somewhere, something shatters. A pane.
And so the future is born.

I give them no names.
I hawk them for profit, sell them on.
If you're cunning you can make quite a mark-up.
I never said I wasn't mercenary.

"How heartless," you say, "how cut-throat, to give what was yours away."
You're oblivious to the fact that selling isn't giving.
You don't know where to draw the line.

How can you say that what I do is wrong?
To whom do they belong?
To no-one. They were never mine.

Poems © Laura Solomon, 2011