888: Sorrow Is Innate in the Human

888: Sorrow Is Innate in the Human

888: Sorrow Is Innate in the Human

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Jason Schneiderman.


I’m Jason Schneiderman, and this is The Slowdown.

My little brother was a very cute and very happy baby. In all the baby pictures of him, he has an enormous and infectious smile. My baby pictures are mostly of me looking very worried. My infant expression was one of extreme caution, and my body language indicated a strong desire to get away from wherever I was, ideally in favor of somewhere safer. Babies are strangers, little humans born into a world that has been going on without them for a long time, and they are completely dependent on the giants around them to help them find their way. Every baby was once part of another person, and then they are on their own, cared for, we hope, but newly whole in a radical way.

Last week, I met the newest member of my family, my cousin’s newborn baby. It was at a funeral for my aunt, my cousin’s mother, and as keenly as I was feeling this loss, I was grateful for that little child, keeping up a steady babble through the entire service, reminding us 1) babies have no sense of decorum and 2) that life does end, but it also begins.

At birth and death we talk about our lives in simplified ways, not as people who have to pay their taxes and eat their breakfasts and tie their shoes, but as people with beautifully arced lives, celebrating the accomplishments of the dead and hoping for the future greatness of newborns.

Today’s poem is about motherhood. The speaker focuses less on what it means to her to be a mother, than on what her child is experiencing, and what her child might know and might need. We often romanticize babies as blank slates, or pure innocents, but the speaker gives us a portrait of the child that sees loss as human birthright. It respects the power of joining the world, not as someone who must learn what it is to be a person, but as someone who already feels the depth of their humanity.

Sorrow Is Innate in the Human
by Francesca Bell

How new the child is.

Her cheeks with the look 
of crisp apples,

but so soft they seem to melt
to my touch.

How little she has known
in her four-week life.

How short her hunger,
tethered to my breast,

pain limited to
inoculation’s needle jab,

and even that
faced with the nipple
firm in her mouth.

Yet she knew enough 
from the first to wake crying,

and for a terrible moment—inconsolable.

So long her journey
from my dreams
to my body to my arms.

So human the burden of grief
she brought with her.

“Sorrow Is Innate in the Human” by Francesca Bell from WHAT SMALL SOUND © 2023 Francesca Bell. Used by permission of Red Hen Press.