Pantomime Horse

by Sally Jenkinson


The latent phase

You may feel irregular contractions. It can take hours, or even days.

At a poetry reading, when someone pauses for too long mid-poem, sometimes the audience tentatively starts to clap, thinking this is their moment. I am on the edge of my seat, peering at the open mouth of a poet. My hands are held apart in mid-air. Should I applaud the end of the first act? So far we have been one character, secretly played by two actors. Pantomime horse. Russian Doll. Egg.

First stage

Stay upright and gently active. Help your baby move down into your pelvis.

A walk in the woods. June has been busy, exploding the Forest into life. I tell Sam I’m still not really sure this is it. He tells me I have been pausing every eight minutes to howl into the trees’ sun-speckled clerestory. I watch Monster-in-Law starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda. Eat nachos. Say prayers. In the bath, Elvis sings take my hand, take my whole life too.

Second stage

You may want to sit, stand, lie on your side, kneel or squat.

Cycling through a paddy field in Vietnam, I saw a giant water buffalo wallowing on her side in the mud. Pasting herself, in protection from the high noon sun. She writhed and huffed and squirmed in a way that was hard to distinguish as pleasure or pain. There was no way I could help her, even if she was stuck. Where else could she go? No other water or shelter for miles around.

Third stage

This way lowers the risk of heavy bleeding, but increases the chances of you being sick.

The compulsion to take photographs of animal dung, footprints, eggshells on the forest floor. I had wanted to watch the placenta appear, study the process. But time is not linear. Coulomb’s law. I was busy holding the whole universe together. Careless of me – to lose an organ, and not notice it leave. Later, they gave it to my Stepdad in a plastic bag. We buried it at Deepdean. It’s yours now.


It’s a good idea to have the baby lifted on to you straight after they are born.

Flotsam and jetsam. Sink and swim. Ebb and flow. Sleeping and waking. Waking. If she dies, I’ll die. Carefully pat yourself dry. Stitches will usually dissolve. Lovesick. After the gold rush. Pee three times, click your heels together and you can all go home. Open water. The open road. I can’t. Something is wrong. I can’t stand it. I can’t stand. The moon is rippling and it won’t keep still.



Sally Jenkinson is a poet, mum, foster carer, and Masters student based in the Forest of Dean (UK). Although she never stopped writing, she has not been active in the poetry community for a few years due to being immersed in raising a young family. In 2021, she is beginning to dip her toes back into the poetry waters – writing about birth, parenthood, and the anxiety of raising children in an unstable time. Her work was recently featured on ‘Power Lines’ on BBC Radio 4.


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