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.
Naked as a babe I stand,
and survey the damaged hills
and valleys of my skin—
familiar landscape made foreign.
If my body was the temple,
you were the holy spirit
that craved a fragrant sacrifice
of blood and milk to bless
the world with hope.
I wonder now at what I am:
the other side of a miracle.
The altar stained, the crowd dispersed,
Remember when the angels sang,
the earth split, the sea rose?
What wonders to behold!
Now my belly is a billowed shroud,
the body gone, the body risen.
I am the imprint, faint and faded,
touched by God.
It starts with comparison.
I pull the measuring tape taut,
square it off, count the hashes.
Pencil the number on a crumpled receipt
and chant the incantation:
Money back within thirty days.
Discrepancy makes me a sorcerer’s apprentice
multiplying not brooms, but yardsticks.
All things transmogrify
in service of appraisal:
The floor length mirror.
The business card.
The photographs of Rome.
The published byline.
The summer cabin.
Trust fund disbursement.
A baby’s push up.
The marathon stamina.
The youthful skin.
The influential family name.
The bullish trade.
The glowing skyline.
The time, the time, the time.
It is tiresome to carry the scales of justice
door to door.
To feel a thing blindly, to evaluate its heft
by the space it occupies
and the space it does not.
My arm shakes, the muscles fail,
and in reluctant setting down,
the graceless letting go,
amid the shards of expectation
I inherit the wealth I am due:
I am enough.
I’m on the phone with the sixth nurse, newly discharged.
The past weeks witnessed frantic dispatches for aid via email and helpline,
while the whoosh and suck of the electric pump
Coaxes Canaan’s bounty from my damaged right breast.
My son lays in his father’s arms,
And greedily receives sustenance that my body cannot provide.
Our circle is broken, and I mourn the unnatural rift in this natural process.
Each greeting begins: “Congratulations, momma!”
and ends with, “…enjoy your precious babe,”
and my body’s screams for healing
Drown in twee wishes and sentiment.
Who advocates for the vessel
once she bears her cargo into a new world?
Who mends her battered hull while the sun shines
on the shiny, pink thing, squalling like the storm
they weathered together on the open sea?
I, and I alone, trace the lines of the stitch
That binds me to myself
looking to fix severed connections
Like a ranch hand mends a Texas fence.
I received your message:
Mothers are warriors, heroes, saints
Aloft on a pedestal of words,
A pedestal erected in lieu
of the support withheld.
I am the means to an end.
The blood test results arrived, and I skimmed the summary via the online patient portal. The doctor’s professional analysis was not yet available, but I took the raw information and Googled the value for each chromosome. All chromosome pairings looked normal, as far as I could tell. I was awash in medical terminology, my head just barely above the surface. No Aneuploidy Detected. Result consistent two copies of Chromosome 21.
The magic of modern medicine was that this genetic screening could both tell me if the baby I carried had obvious chromosomal abnormalities and isolate whether the fetus had XX or XY chromosomes. I could learn my baby’s sex based on information taken from my blood. Or rather, our blood—the technique relied on the assumption that my blood was healthy and that I was female. Any deviations could be chalked up to the little stranger forming in my womb.
The sex chromosome showed an X and a Y. It was a boy! When Alex returned from work, I held the phone screen up and watched his face change slowly as he drew the same conclusion I had. I’m so relieved, he commented. I have so much experience being a boy!
Over the next months, I began to transform one of our spare bedrooms into a nursery. Prior to the discovery of our baby’s sex, I was already passionate about creating a space conducive to any gender expression our child might have. No baby blues or passive pinks for us. There would only be bright, joyful colors. I wanted to leave negative space for my future child—they could color in their own lines. I did not want to tell this future human how or who to be based on a lab test.
I chose rainbowed crib sheets and multicolored polka dot wall decorations. I painted a turquoise accent wall and splurged on a plush, green dinosaur toy. And as I auditioned different window curtains to choose the most playful shade of yellow, I realized I was scared. Unlike Alex, I did not have so much experience being a boy. But I did have so much experience being a girl. I had layers and layers of observations about the privileges boys around me received, the actions they took with and against me, and the experiences of my fellow sisterhood.
As I nested in the nursery, I felt the weight of my responsibility as a newly-christened “boy mom.” Yes, there might be dump trucks and trains and ABC blocks on the horizon. Then again, there might be mermaid tails and princess wands and Barbie dolls, too. I didn’t know yet. But what if my child did express himself in that traditional, raucous, boy way? How could I nurture in him the tools and discernment he would need to be a man in a world where so many self-purported “good guys” did heinous things to women? I swore to the good God above that I would not dismiss bad behavior with phrases like locker room talk.
The questions I had were bigger than finding the right rug for the playroom. I didn’t want to blunt the edges of my future son into a dull, dissolute mother boy. Instead, I needed strategies for how to make his discernment scalpel-sharp. I hoped I could help him wield his power in the direction of equity, resolution, and kindness. My worst fear was that he become a man who succumbs to the trends of the market or corruption of power that often pass as success. How could I become a boy mom that raises her son to be deeply attuned to his conscience? Could I teach my child to use his empathy as a sextant to chart his life’s course?
I decided to start small. I would amass a children’s library that represented varied perspectives beyond his own. This boy could both love baseball and understand the tradition of hijab. He could make finger paint messes and understand consequences and clean up. There would be no shrugging mantra of boys will be boys in this house.
I also realized that I could not teach what I did not, myself, know. I might not be able to control the behaviors of this new, autonomous being, but I could work on my own knowledge and toolsets. I began to evaluate my own behaviors and habits—was I making inroads towards a just and peaceable world? My actions were already speaking for me. What did they say?
Yes, I gave financially to causes I thought advanced equity for women and people of color. I recycled. I read anti-racist literature. I subscribed to podcasts about education initiatives and how nice white parents could elicit unintended consequences. But I started to see gaps where I could do more. The To Do list stretched much longer than I had anticipated, and the baby wasn’t even born yet. Everything already felt out of my control.
I sat on the floor next to the newly-assembled crib, surrounded by children’s books, and the realization came. No amount of parental preparation or discipline that I enforced could guarantee the goodness of my child. I could stack the deck in such a way that he was surrounded by community who loved him and challenged him, who inspired him and held him accountable. I could invest in strong education and literature. I could wrap my own morals around him as a cushion and hope he would make the right choices. But when all was said and done, I would reenact the same cycle I hoped to break.
If I attempted to do the emotional labor for my son, he would not learn how to do it for himself. I could stock his childhood library, but I could not take responsibility for his character. That would be his alone to grow.