Child Who Haunts My Womb

A Poem by Andrea O’Brien

Stay unformed,
not yet human in the hot
depth of me like the dove-
birds of unbroken
sand dollars. The feel
of their gritty out-
sides comes back to me
this November night.
An amnesiac,
I am remembering
how to uncork wine,
plant daylilies,
dream each month
of latent
daughters and sons.

We took Interstate 75
south to Sanibel,
to beaches made of all
shells, the discarded
hard bodies of animals.
I hated not going barefoot.
But without sandals
the musical edges of shells,
sharp as the pains
you give, knocking
against my organs, tore
the flesh of my feet,
so unlike my mother’s
calloused ones.

Did she want me torn
from her belly because she foresaw
the hardships of raising
a fifth child
as she was dying?
Or did she simply accept me
as she accepted
the lunar tides, the morning
paper, a new president
every four or eight years,
arias rising
from her children’s lungs,
radiation, chemotherapy,
colored scarves, and wigs?
Did she accept me
as she accepted the air,
heavy with the lives around
her, the Jesus-like
pain in her palms
after her mother’s death,
her scarred rosary
like a crown of dried
roses in her fist?

I am still a child
really, always fleeing,
asking, and needing:
how to clean silver,
how to check
transmission fluid,
what the right word is
for this situation,
this poem, this feeling
which I know but cannot shake
out into language. Vowels
and the rest of the alphabet
are never enough.
I know others well,
their bodies, even flashes
of their souls which click by,
luminescent and fleeting
as lightening bugs, the seasons
in which we love ourselves best.
But to know myself
I look along fault lines,
the caves of Kentucky,
our moon’s temporary face.

If I swallow enough
bourbon, rum, and schnapps,
if I take enough
antibiotics, enough anti-
depressants will you
come plunging out?

I have too much religion
and not enough God in me
to make a right decision.

In kindergarten,
I was the bareback rider
with my red-leotard-body
between two sides
of my wild cardboard horse,
lively and painted.
But when my sister took me riding
on a real farm, I gripped
my black horse, tried to wrap
my legs around his thick middle.
This is not the mother
I want to be.

I want to teach you to ride
bareback, to be unafraid
of the dark and spiders
and the moment after
death. I want you to fill up
and spill over with words
and your God and the smells
of burnt coffee and pollen.
I want you to gorge yourself
on Lithuanian tortes and symphonies,
snowflakes as they fall, stories
from my father and his mother
so you can find your way back
to the cliffs of Ireland.
I want you fat with the blessings
of marble and sponge cakes
on birthdays, piles of books
spreading wildly away from shelves,
reams of Black-Eyed Susans and blankets
(quilted, army, and down) to wrap
and unwrap yourself in
when the world is too harsh
for both of us.
Mostly, I want you
to wait, to coil yourself
in the dark of my body.
Keep haunting
me even. But wait
to hurl yourself
into this world.

Andrea O’Brien’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Hopkins Review, Connecticut Review, Nimrod International Journal, and The New York Quarterly. In 2007, the Kentucky Foundation for Women awarded Andrea an Artist Enrichment grant to begin writing her second collection of poems. She lives in Denver with her husband and works as a writer and editor.

Read our interview with Andrea O’Brien conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz: The Mystery and the Mess: Motherlines and Motherless Women with Poet Andrea O’Brien

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