In the Dark, About Waves, and First: Waiting

by Suzanne Swanson

In the Dark

You’re up there nursing, up in the tiny windowed room tacked onto the back of the house, the flash of sunlight a solid memory, the neighbor’s yardlight etching a shadowy wallpaper of black walnut branches.  When you’re sitting there rocking, the two of you shading into each other’s skin, camouflaging each other, and he slides into sleep, his palm flat against your breast, you could stay there forever, listening to the noise a floor below, not caring that you’ve been doing this for over a year, you’ve missed every event in the world that began at his bedtime.

 You think about forgiveness.  It bubbles in you, like fish breathing, naturally.  You are so generous.  Fed by the great mother, you feed.  Your good will sparkles and hums in the tiny space and sneaks out the uncaulked cracks between the windows and lights on anyone you choose.

You’re up there putting him to bed, and you know he’s tired, he’s been rubbing his eyes for an hour and shouting at you in indecipherable syllables.  And he grabs at your shirt to get at you, but after a few gulps, arches and tries to make an escape on slippery stockings.  Or, he does quiet and finally, after a long wide gaze at your breast, finally his eyes flutter shut and you breathe deeply, deliberately, to answer your impatience and only after counting to, say, 200, do you rise and sniff his fine hair and turn him so delicately into the crib and as soon as he touches the lambskin you bought just for him he stiffens his arms and bends his knees to all-fours and begins to wail betrayal.

Whether you heave him up to start over or turn and let him crywhatever you’ve decided, whatever you doyour spit sours in your mouth, your teeth clamp down hard on the growl in the back of your throat.  You try to think about forgiveness, for your teeth, for his size.  Let this child know I am just weary, let him know I am only one.  Let him settle here, please, in the arms of the witch, the one who loves him.


About Waves

Ranae wants me with her when she has her baby.  I say yesyes unless it’s that weekend I’m at the North Shore.  It has been too long since I saw Lake Superior.  Of course, she says, I know that, I know.  Besides, she’s been in premature labor, and no one imagines she will make it til then.

She calls me the morning of her due date, calls me in Duluth where I am tearing up my sister’s carpet to reveal scarred maple.  We are waiting for afternoon warmth to drive up the shore.  Ranae says her water broke.  She feels ready.  She wants to stay home as long as possible.  We talk again at lunchtime.  Nothing new.  We are mildly shocked at the distance between us.

The waves at Gooseberry wash over us as soon as we leave the car.  Breakers shush in at an angle, curl like pages slowly turned.  They boom like the ocean.  My daughter says, the thing about waves is, they never die.  It is impossible not to think of Ranae, think of how we all came through water.

I have never liked the idea of riding the wave, staying on top of whitecap, contractions, changing cosmos.    The wind is not benevolent; it simply wants the waves to exist.  The woman lost at sea is half-fish, a mermaid who breathes in water and in air.  She swims close to the rocks, she delivers her infant to safe harbor.

We hike to the falls and back, leave the waves and return.  Some of us see a beaver.  It is an autumn day beyond the perfection of blazing leaves.  The fire dies in rustling ashes on the forest floor.  We drive in quiet back to the city.  There is no answer at Ranae’s.

I am sleeping.  The phone rings with the odd trill of someone else’s house.  Ranae is on the other end.  She has a daughter, 8 pounds, 3 ounces, so beautiful, already nursing well.  She was complete when they got to the hospital.  She could immerse herself in push-rest-push.   Now she is worn, she is floating.  A gray mist falls on the lake, drawn like a curtain over the lapping water. 

 First:  Waiting

Once, barely morning,

I had to go beyond

the windows, left you

in our bed, pulled on

my everyday uniform, loose

over the drum-taut

belly-baby, called

the dog I barely tolerate

for company.  Walked

the alleys, watching

for the line between

dark and light. 

SUZANNE SWANSON is a mother of three and a St. Paul MN psychologist specializing in pregnancy, birth, postpartum and mothering.  Her book, House of Music, was published by Laurel Poetry Collective ( She is also the author of a chapbook: What Other Worlds:  Postpartum Poems and has been published in many literary journals, most recently Water~Stone.

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