With the ocean’s tidal slap
at my feet, I search for scallop,
whelk, conch, clam. My basket
fills until waves fold over
a thumb-sized something.
I know it once responded
to touch. Oceans hold with
salty hands. Back and forth
it bobs in a cradle of sand.
Hearing a fetal heartbeat
is like putting your ear
to a shell; whispers coalesce
into a spray of sound. Then
waves pick up. Behind
the rhythm, you can hear
the mother’s heart echo,
a syncopated splash
like a toddler running
On the screen, I see the black
sack of my womb. A deflated
balloon floats in amniotic
fluid. Anesthesia pulls me
under, throws me against
the rocks, bits of water-shaped
shell for collection.
When My OB/GYN Said He Didn’t Understand Poetry
I worried for my body is a more complex
text. When he feels the shape of my uterus,
he may not think pear-shaped yet an apricot
in size, hollow butternut squash, lightbulb.
He doesn’t consider it a bowl for a daughter
developing inside with a womb and eggs
for her daughters; a set like Grandma’s Tupperware,
burnt orange bowl inside goldenrod inside
avocado poised to seal away meals; nested
like my sister’s Russian dolls, old-wood copies
hidden, waiting to be untwisted, lined up, revealed.
My doctor speaks the body’s language, multiple
meanings in organs, tissues: the tilt of uterus
toward the spine could mean discomfort, pain,
or incarceration—womb snagged on the pelvic
bone. Pressing against ovaries, he examines
those almond-shaped organs pocked like plum
pits. Swollen, movable lumps become allusions,
possibilities: dermoid, endometrioma,
or “chocolate” cysts. Or nothing to worry about.
He questions structure, unpuzzles chromosomes,
scrutinizes tensions between biopsies and blood
work, and reads all this alongside testimony
and history because my flesh, like a poem,
carries mystery: it produced one child complete,
jettisoned the next four. My doctor’s glossing
of my uterine purse—whether it will fill
and stay full or remain empty—eludes
his science. But when I build a nest
of words, paradox and ambiguity kiss each
time, offspring running down the page.
Christine Stewart-Nuñez is the author of Snow, Salt, Honey (2012); Keeping Them Alive (2011); Postcard on Parchment (2008); Unbound & Branded (2006); and The Love of Unreal Things (2005). Her piece “An Archeology of Secrets” was a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2012. She teaches at South Dakota State University.