Unknown Girl In The Maternity Ward

Child, the current of your breath is six days long.

You lie, a small knuckle on my white bed;

lie, fisted like a snail, so small and strong at my breast. Your lips are animals; you are fed with love. At first hunger is not wrong.

The nurses nod their caps; you are shepherded down starch halls with the other unnested throng in wheeling baskets. You tip like a cup; your head moving to my touch. You sense the way we belong.

But this is an institution bed.

You will not know me very long.

The doctors are enamel. They want to know the facts. They guess about the man who left me, some pendulum soul, going the way men go and leave you full of child. But our case history stays blank. All I did was let you grow. Now we are here for all the ward to see. They thought I was strange, although I never spoke a word. I burst empty of you, letting you learn how the air is so. The doctors chart the riddle they ask of me and I turn my head away. I do not know.

Yours is the only face I recognize. Bone at my bone, you drink my answers in. Six times a day I prize your need, the animals of your lips, your skin growing warm and plump. I see your eyes lifting their tents. They are blue stones, they begin to outgrow their moss. You blink in surprise and I wonder what you can see, my funny kin, as you trouble my silence. I am a shelter of lies. Should I learn to speak again, or hopeless in such sanity will I touch some face I recognize?

Down the hall the baskets start back. My arms fit you like a sleeve, they hold catkins of your willows, the wild bee farms of your nerves, each muscle and fold of your first days. Your old man's face disarms the nurses. But the doctors return to scold me. I speak. It is you my silence harms.

I should have known; I should have told them something to write down. My voice alarms my throat. "Name of father—none." I hold you and name you bastard in my arms.

And now that's that. There is nothing more that I can say or lose.

Others have traded life before and could not speak. I tighten to refuse your owling eyes, my fragile visitor.

I touch your cheeks, like flowers. You bruise against me. We unlearn. I am a shore rocking you off. You break from me. I choose your only way, my small inheritor and hand you off, trembling the selves we lose.

Go child, who is my sin and nothing more.

WHAT'S THAT Before it came inside

I had watched it from my kitchen window, watched it swell like a new balloon, watched it slump and then divide, like something I know I know — a broken pear or two halves of the moon, or round white plates floating nowhere or fat hands waving in the summer air until they fold together like a fist or a knee.

After that it came to my door. Now it lives here.

And of course: it is a soft sound, soft as a seal's ear, that was caught between a shape and a shape and then returned to me.

You know how parents call from sweet beaches anywhere, come in come in, and how you sank under water to put out the sound, or how one of them touched in the hall at night: the rustle and the skin you couldn't know, but heard, the stout slap of tides and the dog snoring. It's here now, caught back from time in my adult year —

the image we did forget: the cranking shells on our feet or the swing of the spoon in soup. It is as real as splinters stuck in your ear. The noise we steal is half a bell. And outside cars whisk by on the suburban street and are there and are true.

What else is this, this intricate shape of air?

calling me, calling you.

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