Archive for the 'breastfeeding' Category

Five Poems by Kate Bolton Bonnici

ROBBERY

The children sleep, closed
faces warm and lush,
round fruits. I leave them
curled in blankets to curl
around my computer
or The New Yorker.

My husband asks me to sit with him
on the sofa. I see too late

he meant to be kind.

His voice held something
warm and timid, an offering
gone now. He licks
his hurt by saying
I’ve abandoned us.

I didn’t mean to bruise the pear.
My thumb pressed
heavy

into milky green flesh.
We flush with misread wants.

I race to catch the only scrap
of self I can still see.
It shudders away, thin
paper napkin tossed
along the freeway. I run,
breathing too fast to tell him

I’m lost.

MORNING, LOS ANGELES

Two now reach for me, want to hold
more than I can give. We stroll into clusters
of flies. Their hard, green bodies pop
against my face. My older daughter shouts,
“Shoo, fly!” I wave a pocket
of purring wings. The baby in my arms
nudges my chest, wanting. A white truck drives
past, radio loud enough to vibrate
my shoulders. I taste it in my throat,
chew on the squall of voices
and potholes. My mother went for a run
and didn’t return. She wrote a letter
from Phoenix of birds rising black
in the desert. Above us, a gold-throated
hummingbird shivers, suspended
like the dime-store Christmas ornament
on my father’s tree, glitter-sweet angel
spinning.

BLOOD LINES

Daughter, we are floating.

Your fingers whisper. Somewhere my mother jerks awake. On the yellow couch. Beside the kitchen counter. She remembers her name. You sleep with one new hand on my chest, asking for my breath. We have only just met, but you curl into me. Your lips flutter and click, nursing through our sleep.

Beneath us, Los Angeles. Lights shudder like the trilling mouths of birds. In the old place, robins swarmed South, draping an orange net over the yard and yanking berries from the hedge. Our front walk graffitied with their purple-berry shit.

I bled when you were born. Your sweet, bulging body pressed through me with all I’d rejected. An emptying. The sound of my groaning brought you caked-white, mouth searching, blue cord heaving between us: I offered up everything. When it was time for me to stand, I couldn’t, and we waited a little longer in the space of your first being.

Morning emerges now, dust fizzing on the plastic, half-closed blinds. You wake with startled arms, a beetle on her back, belly warm. You need to press your cheek to my cheek, mouth open to my neck. Breath smudged with milk.

I lie with you on the crackling chuck pad, aching where your body opened up mine to be born, sacred space stitched pink. I once wove these lines upon my mother. For days after she shuffled close-legged, torn perineum, holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end-

over-end down the street.

MY FORMER OBJECT OF EVERYTHING

You tore me as you emerged a formed
person, saying masquerades, gorgeous birds
dissolve, we have strings for our antiquities
.

I forget that you are so young, that you were only
just born, in the scheme of things. I can’t stop saying
what you will remember years later to your daughter,
words frothing like yellow-jackets in the black oak,
their flashing bodies hard pebbles, stinging,
stinging into death.

You are three: Don’t hit me.
I could. I almost do. You know this before me.
Between us, the baby you once were nurses,
her mouth noisy and pleased.

You hold one hand on your hip, a painted tambourine
in the other, purple plastic heels rattling too big on your feet.
My name is Linda, smiling a thin-mouthed secret:
I am a mother too.

The baby mumbles. You play the bright tambourine.
See, I’m laughing! Don’t you see?
The tambourine chatters and skates like branches scraping
the tin roof of the barn where I hid, a sound

large enough to blanket the missing earth beneath us,
loud enough to soften
our fall.

I CAN’T REMEMBER SLEEPING ALONE

From the time you slid out with all that blood and feces,
you began to leave me. I began to leave you.

You clutch my necklace, my thumb, my nipple. A strand
of my hair loops around your ear. Outside, a green truck

heaves past. Our walls shiver. I lay you in the little-used
brown bassinet. Your cry leaps out, a coiled and trembling

deer. I wait too long to answer, air clotted like my grandmother’s
gelatin salads, tender boiled bones, my arms lost, sockets

aching, unable to reach for you again. Under the weight
of your sound I am quiet; I don’t tell everything. Dark words

skulk, broken-eyed, waiting. Some days omission
is the best love I can give.

Kate Bolton Bonnici is a writer, mother, and lawyer living with her family in Los Angeles. Kate is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law. She is originally from rural Alabama.

Male Miscarriage, Reptilian vs. Human Mating Rituals, and Inappropriate Lactation: An Interview with Poet Laura Thompson

Poet Laura ThompsonMy Boyfriend’s Miscarriage,” right off with that title, takes us into unmapped emotional territory. Not only for its secondary implied point of view, but for the serious subjects it juxtaposes (miscarriage and a cancer in a child). Can you talk to us about the process of writing this poem and how you arrived at that stellar title?

People often say that men can’t understand pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, etc., because they have never physically experienced it, which becomes particularly problematic when men attempt to control or legislate what goes on inside women’s bodies. This poem came about because I wanted to envision a scenario through which a man might gain a better perspective on miscarriage. Because the boyfriend in the poem has experienced a situation where his body (in this case, his bone marrow) was unable to sustain a child’s life, he begins to understand why a woman who has had a miscarriage might be unwilling to try again.

“Heat” continues this push into unmapped fertility/sexuality territory, with that feral metaphor of the over-heated, hatched female “sterile, chunky / aggressive” fending off the fertile females, landing beautifully with the closing image of the pull to female to female passion. Again, can you talk to us about your process and choice of metaphors, if there are other images you are further working with in your poetry along these lines?

I’m fascinated by the animal kingdom, especially when it comes to mating rituals, and I often find that describing a literal phenomenon that occurs in nature allows me to then explore metaphorical issues that impact my own species. The sex and breeding behavior of a gecko is directly determined by environmental factors, whereas the environment of human society dictates what behaviors and expressions of sexuality will be regarded as deviant or defective. The speaker’s anger issues may be a result of her prenatal environment, but what provokes her anger is social constraints and a one-size-fits-all mentality; when given free expression, her condition becomes celebratory. Another metaphor I’ve used is the feeling of wanting out of one’s own skin, which I compare to reptiles who literally shed their skin.

I found “’Inappropriate’ Lactation after a Miscarriage” incredibly moving—thank you for writing this poem. Have you encountered other poems in your reading history along this topic (I know I haven’t yet) that you would point our readers toward?

Thank you. I haven’t actually come across any poems that portray this particular aspect of a miscarriage, which is one reason why I wanted to write about it.

Any poetry mentors or other inspirations you’d like to share with us?

All of these poems were written while I was a student at Vermont College, where I worked with Betsy Sholl, Leslie Ullman, Natasha Saje, and Roger Weingarten. I enjoy the work of Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and Lucille Clifton, among other feminist poets. I also admire Sharon Olds’ use of the body as subject matter and Pattiann Rogers’ use of animals as metaphors.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently enrolled in the PhD program at the University of Cincinnati, where I’ve been working on a series of poems that explore my experience with chronic illness.

And just for fun, (if we assume the pet shop source is personal and not projected), will  you be sharing the poems with that owner?

That poem was inspired by several pet store owners I’ve encountered over the years, none of whom would appreciate being immortalized. My pets, however, are fans of my work.

Laura Thompson earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of the Fine Arts and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in English and Comparative Literature, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Tributary, The Rectangle, and Tiger’s Eye. She is also a part-time English and Creative Writing instructor and serves on the editorial staff at the Cincinnati Review.

4 Poems by Laura Thompson

Outgrown

The pet store owner hates me.
The bags of skittering crickets
I buy can’t make up for the sales
he’s lost. Releasing swarms of doubt
among his customers, I tell them
how big those babies behind glass will get.
The sulcata tortoise that fits
in your child’s mouth will be 200 pounds.
The frog sitting on your thumb eats fruit flies
now, rats later. In a year, that iguana will need
his own room. Caiman is just another
word for Crocodile. Is it animal welfare
that makes me speak up, or my own
fear of a life that will outgrow
the space I leave for it? When my eight-months
pregnant friend says how much she wants
this baby out, I don’t tell her
about my embryo, just another word
for a baby so small I didn’t know I’d brought
it home, how my deformed
uterus ran out of room at eight weeks,
and the tissue meant to cushion crushed.

My Boyfriend’s Miscarriage

On a Harley Davidson notepad, I draw
a normal uterus: pear-shaped, adorned on either side

with ovaries, and then mine, upside down, toppled
by a mass of eggs on one side, nothing

on the other, fallopian tubes
a gnarled ball of yarn.

The perspective father of my children
still isn’t convinced: Wouldn’t a child

 from your own body mean
more? Wouldn’t that be worth

the risk? I find him sobbing, face down
on our mattress, clutching

a Christmas photo—his niece’s bald head
covered by a Santa hat, smiling despite

chemo and swollen cheeks—he flinches
when I brush against his hip where a drill

pierced his femur, drawing rich red marrow
from the hollows of his pelvis to patch holes

in a child’s blood, the only relative whose genes
matched. Nine months later, the cells he donated

have died inside her. I was wrong
he says. That’s the last part of us
I want to lose.

“Inappropriate” Lactation After a Miscarriage

To not “take possession of.”
To not “set apart for a particular use.”
Not “fitting, suitable, apt.”
Not milk, but milky,
meant for a baby never
truly possessed.
Not white, but bluish gray,
insinuating itself into a bra’s
lace when someone else’s baby cries.

Set apart but not useful,
twin tumors the heart beats against–
ignore the pressure, refuse to release it,
and it will go away.
“Express” it and it will never
stop. Soothe with frozen
cabbage leaves, brittle green reminders
that babies are not found
where they were thought to be.
The only cure: to become
fertile again. What is natural
can also be wrong.

Heat

Inside a freshly laid egg, a gecko
begins female, but temperature
changes everything. Incubators
set at 75 guard oviducts, but
crank to 80 and androgen pools
in hemipenal pores. A simple formula, unless
a thermostat malfunctions and temps
reach 90, for an egg just shy of omelet
hatches “hot female.” Sterile, chunky,
aggressive, they savage males who try
to mount them, dance a slithering samba
when “normal” females approach.

Off her meds because of me, my mother
hid in closets and crawl spaces
in June, heat stroke less threatening
than life. Were those prenatal summer
months the reason the dress shop calls
my waist a “size other?” Did it make
me throw a desk at the teacher who said
I’d never find a husband peering
through a microscope? Is that
why I sizzle in a woman’s
arms like butter
beneath scrambled egg?

Laura Thompson earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of the Fine Arts and is currently enrolled in the PhD program in English and Comparative Literature, with a certificate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at the University of Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Tributary, The Rectangle, and Tiger’s Eye. She is also a part-time English and Creative Writing instructor and serves on the editorial staff at the Cincinnati Review.

Read our interview with Laura Thompson conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Male Miscarriage, Reptilian vs. Human Mating Rituals and Inappropriate Lactation.

Limitations, Imitations, and Haiku as Form of Expansion: an Interview with Poet Stephanie Lenox

Poet Stephanie Lenox, headshot

Stephanie Lenox, Photo by Sabina Samiee, Oregon Arts Commission

In “Confinement: A Haiku Sequence in Ten Parts,” (published earlier here at The Fertile Source) the narrator speaks to her unborn child, “My fears feast on you / But even the leaves let go.” This beautiful line in particular seems to hone in on the way a mother’s brain has to rewire itself to accept the responsibility of loving someone we can lose at any moment. The rest of the poem also documents this process (which starts in utero). Can you talk about how the images came to you? And why you chose the form of haiku? How did the conditions of bedrest figure in to the psychology of the narrator?

I was inspired to start this haiku sequence after taking a workshop with Ce Rosenow, president of the Haiku Society of America. Her workshop reminded me that a haiku is so much more than simply a 5-7-5 syllabic form. Since haiku traditionally include images from nature, I wanted to do that in my sequence, but for the most part my imagery is confined to those things I could see from my bedroom window – telephone wires, a few treetops, the sky. I invited nature into my haiku through other images, but for the most part I aimed for images that reinforced the cramped, claustrophobic feel of pregnancy, especially a pregnancy spent on complete bedrest.

I started with haiku in part because motherhood and the preceding 70 days in bed was such a monumental experience – it completely rearranged me – that I wasn’t sure where to begin. So I started with five syllables, then seven more, and I slowly built and layered one image on top of another. (It was also a writing project I could chip away at between feedings, diapers, etc.) The formal restrictions of haiku helped focus me. I also discovered in the process that haiku, while appearing small, is a form of expansion. Without punctuation, it is intended to unfold and expand in the reader’s mind. I liken it to one of those toy capsules you drop into the bathtub that transform into a sponge dinosaur.

In “Last days of nursing,”  the metaphor of the magician strikes me as a clever way to point to the intermediary nature of motherhood—part God, part magician, yet so rooted in tangible and impossible acts, like weaning a child. I believe every mother who has had to wean her child will relate to this poem! Were there other metaphors you considered along the way? Poetry by any other writers you’ve seen covering this topic you’d like to share with us?

This poem is a direct response to the poem “The End of Nursing” in a beautiful book called Out of Refusal by Carter McKenzie. Her poem begins: “Interminable nibbler, attached fish, when / does this end?” My poem, in its last line, answers hers.

I felt so empowered to write about this topic after reading her poem that I practically stole her title and started writing my own version. I’m sure I considered a lot of metaphors along the way, but I settled on the extended use of the magician because magic is messy, or at least that’s the way I envision it. From the audience’s point of view, it’s all illusion, but for the magician and the assistant it’s a rehearsed performance, one that begins with awkward practices and risky errors and that eventually works its way toward mystery.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems inspired by the birth of your daughter. Can you give us an inside peek at the range of topics you’ll cover? (And let us know when it comes out so we can alert our readers and support your work.)

I have been fortunate to receive an individual artist grant from the Oregon Arts Commission in support of new work inspired by my daughter’s birth. My first book of poetry, Congress of Strange People, will be coming out from Airlie Press next fall. I’ve always been intrigued by bizarre characters and events, and my first book explores this in large part through the use of persona poems. But in my new work, the strangeness has come home with me. I find it in the middle of the night during a feeding. I find it in the ants crawling through my kitchen cupboards and across my newborn’s tongue. I find it in my dog whose severe separation anxiety caused her to consume baby bottle nipples and parts of my breast pump.

I’m also experimenting with imitations of other poets. Theodore Roethke has said that “Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning how to write.” I’m a perpetual student of poetry, so imitations are my way of tracing my poetic lineage through poems that have changed the way I think about what language can do. I like to think of my poems as “offsprings” of the originals.

Any mentors you’d like to share with us?

I’m a member of a poetry response group known as The Peregrines (named so because we meet twice a month at a different member’s house). They apply the gentle pressure I need to keep writing in spite of all the competing obligations. I’ve likewise been grateful for the mentorship of the editors at Airlie Press, the nonprofit poetry publishing collective that is publishing my first book.

Has your experience of motherhood changed your relationship to your writing or your editorial work?

Motherhood has made me more honest about my time: either I do it, or I don’t, no excuses. I’ve actually been more productive since my daughter was born than I was in the years before she arrived. I work during naps and by the good graces of babysitters. My daughter has a bedtime of 6:30 pm, which used to give me a lot of time to work. However, since I’m now expecting my second child, I no longer have the creative energy to write in the evenings.

I wish I’d realized how good I had it when my daughter would sleep in my lap as I compiled an issue of Blood Orange Review or read submissions. I miss the days I could read an entire book of poetry at 3 am while rocking my daughter back to sleep. Now that I have a toddler on my hands, there’s no working while she’s in my presence. But what I’ve learned most from motherhood is to constantly adapt to today’s challenge rather than forcing yesterday’s solution. 

Any programs for writing mothers you’ve found helpful or that you’d’ like to see developed?

The grant I received from the Oregon Arts Commission has been especially helpful for me as a writing mother. It’s paying for the babysitter right now as I answer these questions. Another thing that helps is finding other writers with young children. It’s extremely useful to share one’s frustrations and accomplishments as a writer while the babies roll around on the floor together.

As for more programs for writing mothers, I’m dreaming now, but I’d love to see more daylight poetry readings, ones with a separate room with childcare provided. I think one reason you see poetry audiences aging (at least in my corner of the world) is that young families face a lot of barriers to attending evening events. This has been the part of my literary life most impacted by motherhood. If I’m going to spring for a babysitter, I want it to be for my own writing or a date night with my husband.

Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Her chapbook, The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2007. The work published here was written with the support of a 2010 Oregon Art Commission artist fellowship. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the literary journal Blood Orange Review. For more information, please visit her website at www.stephanielenox.com.

Two Poems by Stephanie Lenox: Confinement and Last Days of Nursing

Confinement: A Haiku Sequence in Ten Parts

While pregnant with my daughter, I was hospitalized for several weeks then prescribed complete bedrest at home to prevent pre-term delivery. I spent ten weeks in bed.

Fetal monitor—
Pebbles dropped down a dark well
Your slight heart’s beating

My fears feast on you
But even the leaves let go
Tiny Apple Core

All autumn confined
Don’t speak to me of seasons
This leaf pile smolders

An ant traverses
The wilderness of my bed—
Will it ever end?

Counting your hiccups
This parade of numbers
A game I must play

Frost on the window
My incompetent cervix
Between us this veil

On the ultrasound
A hill covered in fresh snow
You’ve turned your back to me

The still frozen pond
One tenacious goldfish roots
In the muddy bed

Wires segment the sky
Between them I write your name—
I’ll do anything

Heavy with questions
I roll over like the day
Somehow we go on

Last Days of Nursing

Like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, the milk came,
conjured by your hungry mouth.

My abracadabra—your mewling cries—my presto chango.
Behind the curtain I waited and waited for your call.

There were days I felt the handcuffs bite my wrists,
days I felt you determined to saw me in half.

Vanishing is only half the act. We cast our spells on each other.
You, my bright fat coin plucked from behind an ear.

O sleight-of-hand, how do we now perform
this gentle switch-a-roo? Think of the knotted handkerchiefs,

that bright cord pulled again and again from
the master’s sleeve—my dear astonished one, it never ends.

Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Her chapbook, The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2007. The work published here was written with the support of a 2010 Oregon Art Commission artist fellowship. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the literary journal Blood Orange Review. For more information, please visit her website at www.stephanielenox.com.

Read our interview with Stephanie Lenox: Limitations, Imitations and Haiku as Form of Expansion

Gone

Fiction by Ethel Rohan

         My fingers traced the diagonal scars that ran from my armpits and across the memory of my breasts, the stitches long dissolved and the red, angry skin faded to pink. My other hand moved to my stomach and traveled up and down its long vertical scar, this one more purplish than pink. All the scars dry and flaky. Fish spines.

          I listened to the birdsong outside my bedroom window and decided to put off going to the hospital until the afternoon. I was no longer a patient, but sometimes returned to volunteer. I liked to hold the babies that didn’t have visitors, to breathe in their freshness and sing them to smiles. I had my first Friday off in months from the diner and felt glad to be free of the customers’ small-talk, of their complaints and ogles. One thing I was never free of was the diner’s deep-fried air. It hung all around me and wouldn’t wash away. Still, I liked my job well enough and could do it robot-like while I day-dreamed. Jason, a handsome, square-jawed, blue-eyed regular who wasn’t coy about his wish to have me on the menu, would be disappointed by my absence. I smiled into my pillow. Sometimes, while I carried the trays and wiped down the tables, I fantasized about Jason and me going out together, to a movie or a nice restaurant. I wouldn’t let myself think beyond that. I couldn’t imagine the two of us alone together.

My neighbor’s colicky baby wailed. Their back door smacked closed. I moved from my warm bed to the window. My neighbor stood in her dark pajamas and bare feet in the grass, her hands on her hips and dark head turned up to the sky. I tried to remember her name. The baby’s cries climbed and my neighbor’s hands covered her ears. Months back, her husband had deployed to Iraq. He had yet to meet his son. She was always polite, but distant, and seemed to want to keep to herself. That suited me. In addition to the fussy newborn, she had two little girls. Her name came to me, Nancy. I dressed quickly, tried not to look at my too-big bed.

Just as I reached my front door, the kitchen phone shrilled. It was likely my dad, and if I didn’t answer, he’d worry. It turned out to be Jason. His voice sent me bobbing in warm, shiny water. He had bribed the new busboy for my number, said he never again wanted to have breakfast without me. He’d never had breakfast with me, I corrected, just delivered by me. The sneaky, small-eyed busboy had also given him my address. Jason asked to come over. I warned him not to dare. He chuckled. I pictured his thick, shiny-with-maple-syrup lips and again felt a rush of pleasure.

“I want to show you my latest drawing,” he said.

The next door baby continued to cry. “I have to go, seriously.”

“I drew you.”

My insides recoiled, and I rushed the receiver down.

Jason sometimes brought his sketches to the diner, mostly of hawks, trees, the ocean, and everyday people. Gifted, he managed to bring out in his subjects something I’d never have noticed: the hawks’ intelligent eyes and the blue in their black talons; green leaves so smooth, shiny, and thick I wanted to pet them; and emotions in people’s faces that lifted right off the page. He was gifted, yes, but he’d no right to draw me without my permission, to take from me like that.

I walked along the side of Nancy’s house and called out over her wooden fence. The baby wailed. Moments later, Nancy pulled open her front door. She stood tall and thin and appeared ill. Her face was pale, and she had greenish circles under her eyes. Her long gray-black hair was messed and unwashed. I tried not to react to her body odor, and followed the baby’s cries upstairs. The unclean smell pervaded the house and yet everything, the carpet, wallpaper, and furnishings, looked washed-out. There was also the smell of burnt toast.

The baby lay on his side in his crib, his face a dangerous red. His eyes were scrunched shut and his mouth was open wide. His colorless fingers gripped the bars on his crib, and I had to peel the spongy digits free. I lifted him, and he roared. I hugged him to my shoulder and shushed at his damp ear. Nancy apologized, explained. She had tried everything. I urged her to take a shower and to nap. I would stay. Nancy protested. She couldn’t, she shouldn’t. I insisted. His mother gone, the baby kicked his legs inside his yellow pajamas and jerked his fists. He cried harder. His large bald head pushed and rooted at my prosthetic bra and his greedy grunts turned frantic. I had only my baby finger to offer. The force of his suck hurt and frightened me, could rip my finger right off.

I carried him outside to the garden, the sky boy-blue and the sun hidden behind clouds. The cool breeze startled him into silence. I bounced him in my arms and praised and cooed. He started-up again. I sang to him, soft and low. Overhead, the plovers circled and seemed to listen, to sing back. The baby quieted and closed his eyes. We returned inside. I cradled him in his rocking chair and breathed-in his sweet-and-sour milky smell. My thoughts returned to Jason. I wondered how he’d drawn me.

For sure, at thirty-two, he would never have depicted me as scarred, breastless, and barren. I had chosen to hedge my bets and allowed the surgeons to get ahead of the white spots in my breasts and lymph nodes, to cut away at me.

On the street, a car slowed and stopped. Its door closed. I held the baby and my breath and strained to hear.

Jason waited on my front porch for over an hour. Twice, I’d signaled from the baby’s window and indicated he should go. He waved away my gestures and leaned back against my front door, his black artist’s case by his hip. I left Nancy recharged and her baby still asleep. At the end of her front path, I almost turned left instead of right, but pressed on to my house and Jason. His easy smile almost made me bolt. He wore faded, ripped jeans and a tight red t-shirt. Red, despite everything, was still my favorite color. We sat on the barstools at my messy kitchen island, there junk mail and other bits of me scattered about. I wished everything was more in order.

I followed his gaze to the reproduction Frida Kahlo on the opposite wall. He scrutinized Kahlo’s naked breasts, open torso, shattered spine, body harness, and the nails that punctured her flesh. He turned back to me with an uncertain smile. I offered coffee, but he refused. His attention turned to the single pine chair at my tiny kitchen table. I’d put its mate in the garage. He reached for his artist’s case. I jumped at the coffeemaker.

I put a mug of steaming coffee in front of him, and told him about the baby next door, the babies in the hospital. In the end, I was the one who reached for his portfolio. He’d captured me in profile, as I scribbled a customer’s order, the obligatory smile on my face. My dark hair was tied up and its loose strands caught behind my ear, curling toward my throat. My prosthetic breasts pushed against my pink uniform, smaller than my real breasts. He’d shaded my face, trapped me in shadow.

I pushed the drawing aside. “It’s not me.”

He looked from me to the drawing and back again, perplexed.

I reappeared in the kitchen, my shirt and bra removed and the black camisole clinging to my small boy chest. I dropped my hands to my sides. He searched my face, swallowing. I told him how much was gone. He held my gaze.

“You want to try again?” I asked, my face hot.

He nodded. I tried to slow my breath, to stop shaking. He moved the pine chair to the window. Seated, the sun warmed my head and shoulder. I peeled off the camisole and dropped it to the floor. I looked straight at him. His pencil danced over the paper.

Ethel Rohan is the author of Hard to Say, PANK, 2011 and Cut Through the Bone, Dark Sky Books, 2010, the latter named a 2010 Notable Story Collection by The Story Prize. Her work has or will appear in The Good Men Project, The Chattahoochee Review, Los Angeles Review, Potomac Review and Southeast Review Online among many others. She earned her MFA in fiction from Mills College, California. Raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan is now a resident of San Francisco, California. Visit her at ethelrohan.com  and read her most recent work here.

Rohan’s “Gone” was featured in this post and lively discussion (replete with additional story and poem suggestions for further reading) here at The Lit Pub.

Read our interview with Ethel Rohan conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz: The Power of Domestic Realism, Male Protagonists and the Dual Degree: Mills and Motherhood.

 

Early Motherhood: Three Poems by Sheila Hageman

Falling Into Sky

The first time you gazed up at a tree—
September green and splotchy red
underside branches. Like thin baby
veins, blue spreading. Smoky cloud
edges appear through leaf
openings; little brown cracked
rims on green newness. Fading. Layers
of thickening, breaking open
at the top. Yellow splotchy
sun; to fall upward into open sky
with the vast blueness
awaiting. Your limp warm body; the trunk
begins behind us, ends
underground. The lawn
Great Grandpa birthed
our house from. Stones upon
his land; unearthed.

Through me

If I don’t text these words into my iPhone
How will I remember the acorns were falling hard and bouncing
Disheveled little branches scattered the driveway
Cole brushed them aside with each small first step
From the stones
Step bend sweep and sweep

Genny moans, it’ll take forever, I have to pee
She won’t go in alone, I’m scared

The single blooming rose—not on your birth day, but close
And the arranging of schedules so I could be induced
The blowing rustle of the breeze past neighbors’ trees
The flood of blood that sweeps through me today with you
Nursing on my lap

This noticing I’ve not done in so long

Round
Step Two plastic slide scuffed
red green dirt from others’ Freecycled feet

A plastic house for toddlers
with plastic beet carrot onion

Driveway separating our house from Grandma and Grandpa’s
Now in probate; a home full

Yellow garbage can still outside
Taped up blue recycling bin
Deflated pool on picnic bench

To see my crossed legs—and flip-flips
I could be my mother
Being watched by her mother

Until you squawk and remind me
I’m the mom

A red yellow blue broken basketball
Hoop

Soft pastels of leaning stacks of folding chairs
against the wall
Me climbing when I was young, or
A photo of me
plump, without
child

Sheila Hageman is a multi-tasking mother of three. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College, CUNY. She teaches Yoga, Creative Writing, Composition and Literature. She has been published by Salon, Conversely and Moxie and blogs at www.strippermom.blogspot.com.

Read an interview with Sheila: “Yoga, Body Image, and Motherhood vs. Stripping: An Interview with Sheila Hagemen,” by Tania Pryputniewicz, March 16, 2010.

In Public

Flash Fiction by Candice Baxter

I board the city bus for a ride to my job interview, since that sorry son of bitch wrecked my car and my credit and my master plan.  He ran off with a Russian stripper, said she made him feel alive.  Across from me a wiry, black woman in a red tank top sits breastfeeding her child-with no cover.  I want to declare she needs to put that thing away in public.  Though I know the baby is quiet and nursing and if interrupted from its meal, it will scream out in ear wrenching cries for more until its stop or my stop, whichever comes first.  The mother’s skin will stretch tout with hundreds of pea shaped milk deposits, unless she can release the pressure of the pure intention of breasts in the first place.  Before they were plastered as sexual attachments of women’s bodies, bared on movies and late night infomercials covered with CENSORED, for men like the creep hanging onto the rail above me to watch, to ogle, to lust after plump ones and perky ones and round ones-when breasts were not even created for the man but for the child.  If used for what they were created for, prolonging creation, they are no longer plump or perky or round. 

Babies draw life from their mothers.  They suck from raw nipples, cracking like chapped lips under perpetual friction, leaking and dripping at the cry of any baby, soaking a mother’s front with milk.  Milk streams down into the under-fold, beading along with the other dripping beads of milk as it gathers in the reservoir of the mother’s belly button, the hole marking her own creation, until the baby can relieve the stretching pressure and suckle once again.  The mother cannot give any more of herself, for the child to suck the nutrients out of her.  I try not to watch.  Where her other nipple falls, a wet spot grows.  Her loose apron flap of midriff skin jiggles when we hit a bump. She switches. 

I keep quiet, turn my head.  I am riding the city bus.  I cannot yell for the woman to put that thing away in public.  The baby cannot cry the hungry cry.  After that sorry son of a bitch wrecked my life, I bought a newspaper and some pantyhose and left my baby at home with my sister.  I borrowed her powder blue suit so I would look innocent like the white pearls around my neck.  Even with a thin bra and sheer button down, the jacket barely closes.  

The baby whimpers.  I try not to feel the tiny eggs breaking inside my shirt. 

Candice Baxter is a creative nonfiction MFA candidate at the University of Memphis, currently writing a memoir of her teenage pregnancy in a small Southern town deep in the heart of the Bible belt. She has published work in The Missouri Review, South Carolina Review, and Photosynthesis.

Please read Editor Jessica Powers’s interview with Candice Baxter, Breasts, Sexual Objects, Flash Fiction, and Teen Pregnancy: an interview with Candice Baxter November 17, 2010 by Jessica Powers

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 (www.laurelpoetry.com). 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.

Waiting to Take the Pregnancy Test, Dreaming When the Moon is Full, Letter at Nine Weeks

3 Poems

by Wendy Wisner

Waiting to Take the Pregnancy Test

A yellow taxi, bright as blood,
stops behind the oak tree,
picks up no one, and slides away.

Every thirty seconds, an airplane
grazes the yolk yellow house
across the street.  Blue jays

spill from rusty maples-
swarms of them, hollow bodies.
I wish we bore our young

as birds do, outside the body.
Humans like to look
at what they make while they make it.

Each brief morning,
I gaze through the red veil
of my curtains.  I make a world.

In the afternoon I lose it.

Dreaming When the Moon is Full

My father picks me up in the old Datsun,
seats still sticky from the apple juice
I spilled as a baby.  My sister is a child
in her mint green T and it isn’t weird
when I bury my head in her chest.
It’s mushy there, like leaky down pillows
and she tells me everything will be fine
the way I told her on the phone last night
everything will be fine because the moon is full.
Then my father drops me off at your childhood
home.  Your mother’s hair is long and gold
like Rapunzel’s and she says it’s okay
if you and I sleep in the wild woods
of the unfinished attic.  As we climb
the stairs, I cup my hand on the small
of your back, rake my fingers through your
corn husk hair.  Even in the dream
I cannot give you a child, but you rock
and cradle me on the sawdust floor,
my body floppy as a doll.  Over and over
you forgive me, mouth sealed to my milky chest,
stars knocking like dice against the skylights.

Letter at Nine Weeks*

First the book said my womb was a plum,
then a small pear, a navel orange,
now a grapefruit, and this morning, you pushing
your almond body against the edges
of mine, drool blooming so thick and sticky
on my pillow I feared it was blood, I said to you
I want the world, I want it just a little.
                           

Danny wakes, and we sleep,
my body splayed out, ripe, taking up space,
you stuck to me, secret as a silkworm.
The blender whirs, the phone rings.
Birds screech, but I am strapped
to this bed, not dreaming, not thinking, you gently sucking.

*”Letter At Nine Weeks” previously appeared in a chapbook published by The Zen Center of NY in October 2009.

 

Wendy Wisner’s first book of poems, Epicenter, was published by CW Books in 2004.  Her poems have appeared in The Spoon River Review, Rhino, Natural Bridge, The Bellevue Literary Review, online at Verse Daily, and elsewhere.  Wendy previously taught writing and literature at Hunter College; she is now a La Leche League leader and is pursuing her Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) certification.  Visit Wendy on the web at www.wendywisner.com.




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