by Robin Byrd
I almost died having the baby. Feet. Breached. Early. Late. Viable. I almost died… I was alone and scared to push. She weighed 8 pages when born. Serious little thing. Made such a fuss to get here – weeks of labor pain, decades in the womb. She made me read to her and talk to her. She requested Nikky Finney’s poem The Afterbirth, 1931; she said you’re trying not to say it. Say it! And Dael Orlandersmith, she said, look at her – good – does she look like she messes around with plays? Tell it! And Charlayne Woodard, do you remember the expression on her face when you mentioned me…remember how even now that look makes you cross your fear…Write it! Straight – no chaser…
She seemed to gain strength there at the end – the baby – even though she almost aborted when Mr. Albee passed, screaming and flipping herself feet first so she could push better, wanted to be standing soon after her toes hit air. You been digging the same well since you met him, time you hit water – it’s a gusher. She pushed and leaned and pushed and leaned… All that leaning on my rib cage made me ill but when she was born, I understood why the labor pains were so great.
She had talked nonstop that last month, and I wrote till I couldn’t write no more then she plopped out, feet first and stood before me, naked and unafraid. She was beautiful, covered in afterbirth, and I am not just saying that because she’s mine…it’s true…she’s been aching to be born…and she wears herself well…
Ever birth a play like that? Hard to write but it won’t let you water it down, won’t let you go till you write it? Because…you have to write it, even if it is a piece at a time. Some plays are just meant to be… Only you can write yours so —
Do your art. You never know how it’s going to shake out or who it will inspire or who it will help survive the storms of life…. In hindsight, I realize that I gravitated to Albee because he distracted me in a the middle of a traumatic time in my life and made me think of better days…and possibilities… The women — Nikky, Dael, Charlayne — they make me want to fly….
“I hope that in the year ahead the art you create makes our country a better place. We need you.” Katherine James, playwright, actor