Doors shuttered. Connections frayed-- we were downed power lines, sparks in wind. The only way, together, we built fires in the dark. Or, we were sailors on a current flowing to the world's end. What monsters swam the deep where our bow would tip and plummet? Then, news came. New life. Our hopes and fears commingled. We turned our gaze within and the unmapped world persisted. We'd built the circle of the globe, our bodies bridges, now to then. Our endings were new worlds to know.
The winter days darkened
from tilted hemisphere,
the snow squall hate that blusters
from the mouths of men.
Insidious clouds of thickened rage
block the sun with their backs
to deprive the warmth
that grows our crops.
In spite of this we sit indoors:
the dog, the baby, and I.
Neither know the dread
of Sunday scaries or headlines,
bad opinions, willful ignorance
of me and my and mine.
All they know is of the light
that hovers on adjacent wall,
flits to the floor, doubles back,
the silent, playful wonder
of the sun’s reflected face
as it delights them with
elusive fairy hops.
I rented her the room
on the basis of her earrings.
Freckled nose, newly thin,
collar bones cut
sharp like her wit.
We gave thanks
cranberries and turkey,
Her vintage eye,
a thrift store hound,
she let me wear
her green dress once.
I did again, without asking.
She knew but didn’t say.
Vodka smoothies, red-eyed research.
David Bowie, drunken curries.
The cheap skillet warped.
I laughed and ate her meal.
The decade took its toll.
A light dimmed by hidden liquor,
welfare calls, the ride to find the totaled car.
Missing persons report, the lonely cat,
a pile of sick upon the floor.
Awkward box step, care and boundary.
The line drawn.
A new sun rose, a corner turned.
A job, a love, a life abroad.
Santorini, Rome, and Paris,
Istanbul, a mother’s email.
No alcohol, they said.
No details yet.
Just a heart sans
I unpack the bag and pluck out my fears—
used tissues pinched by fingertips—
the truth of me smeared and hidden
lest anyone see I’m leaking.
Cringe and flinch at the caricature
my husband’s ex must make of me,
the time she caught me coveting her
well-lit composition and poise.
My finger tap, a signal
she was neither out of sight nor out of mind.
My envy was lint in the side pocket
that, unballed, began as threads
from past betrayals and itchy scabs
I picked until they oozed.
In youth I feared deep loneliness,
the loss of power in a room of men,
a roving eye that paused for me but never
Now the vows babies mortgages
bind me tight just as I wished.
In exchange, my solitude, a price I paid
with loose pennies from my purse.
I was as round as a meal, as pregnant as a pause, a hen in the chicken coop tending to my eggs. Our friends outside circled around the picnic and my blood drained out in clumps. The fibrous exodus of a hoped-for future inscribed farewells on the surface of the water. I sealed my heart to slow the flood And returned to the party, a tomb.
I The circle looped in on itself no start and end but the numbers on the houses, crabgrass plots back to back like brothers in a hotel bed. We ran barefoot on the new tar road run wince hobble walk with gravel between our toes. We roamed free, no collars no fences like the transient dogs that wandered in. Salt-brined babies in the Texas bake, we hid and sought until the sun went down.
II Mailboxes welcomed us, red flags aloft in soldierly rows saluted, guards to hopeful letters. We played postman to hand-scrawl on white pages, blue lines. Check yes or no and flattened cootie catchers passed from hand to hand. A dry breeze whipped the stripes and stars atop the neighbor’s pole. No purple mountains, no amber waves Just us at the end of the road before our parents called us home.
Here’s the thing about motherhood—it is the entrance into a perpetual, fluid experience that you can influence, but you cannot control.
It is a state of relationship to a child born, unborn, yearned for and not yet. It is a moment where you cease to be the primary protagonist of your story. Your storyline splits and there are two versions: the you that you knew before and the us. This is not to say that your needs or desires as a person cease to exist, but rather that your purpose becomes deeply intertwined with something other. Your locus of control shifts. Diverts. It’s no longer just about you.
Getting to motherhood is messy, regardless of how it happens. Whether it was an instance of failed birth control, or an exhausting marathon of hormone injections and timing, or a phone call on an afternoon that the paperwork is complete, the stars aligned, and you’ve been granted the chance to share a life with a child you haven’t met. None of us gets a guarantee.
I have been pregnant twice but have one child. Like so many, my path to motherhood didn’t progress in a linear fashion. My husband and I experienced a pregnancy loss the first time we conceived. It was devastating. There was nothing we could have done to change the outcome, and it was a too-personal example of the unpredictability of life.
I adore my son. He is light and exploration. He is curious and confident. His hunger is a guttural grumble that will not cease, and even when I’m cleaning bodily fluid off of his tiny body and mine, the exquisite intimacy of our duality is palpable. I reflect often on the specialness of this force we set into motion that grows and learns of his own accord. I can influence, but I cannot control.
I watch him first observe, then practice, then emulate basic words. His shaky muscles propel a reach and a grasp until, after repetition and willpower, they push and pull his body into sturdiness. His brain makes connections between events that I did not weave together. The light switch and the lightbulb. The drop of the spoon and the clatter on the ground. The wiggling fingers lifted in salute, and the corresponding wave from the stranger on the sidewalk. No amount of organic food, scheduled sleep and wake windows, educational toys, or screen time limits can ensure who he will be. I can influence, but I cannot control.
His firsts are my firsts, too. I flex shaky muscles in ways they haven’t been used. I learn to navigate a new body, unfamiliar in both its form and its habits. Thinned hair, widened hips, a moon cycle unpredictable in its intensity. I toddle through the world in continual surprise that the assumptions I took for granted have changed. A yoga squat is easy. A full body plank is hard. I learn how to hold the squiggly line of a kid as I thread him through a sweater. I realize he has preferences as he smacks the spoon of chicken and lentils away from his mouth. I become proficient in a language I didn’t know—one where pitch and tone of a cry tells me the depth of pain or the shallow unease of over-tiredness.
On this Mother’s Day I lay in bed for ten greedy minutes and suppress the guilt that my husband is doing all of the morning child-rearing tasks. Because of the holiday I can get that guilt into a dense, flat circle about the size of a dime, but it never goes away. With the space left behind from that guilt vacuum, I instead write this:
If you, too, are in the slippery throes of uncertainty, the unease of newness, the frustration of circumstances you used to be able to hold tightly in your grasp, hello. I am here, too. Even if no one brings you French toast in bed, or your child is waiting on a diagnosis, or you are in the umpteenth round of IVF and can’t see the reward on the horizon, know that you are part of something larger than yourself. We are here, the other mothers swaying in the breezes of change, and we see you. Big hugs on this day, of all days. You are enough.
The thing about dreams is
we build them from the inside.
Our eyes close, our minds construct
treehouse cities, disco skylines.
Oh, what a world we’d architect
if our steel was empathy.
A home for every wearied body,
joy in blackness, queerness thriving,
diversity resplendent as stained glass.
Our beauty illumined.