Parenting, Poetry


for Story


–And after you, the seep:
a bloody comet’s tail, eight weeks,
arachnid crawl
of clots, the slow
retraction of a slackened core.
A self unrecognized, a shell
awash on foreign shores.


you have made me something
akin to Lot’s wife: forewarned
to shuffle off
regret, to slough
the longing
for abandoned lands.


Love is a dermis, earned
by the measured erosion
of ego, a molting of
parsimony, a flaking of
our sin. For you,
I will slough all
my skins; I love
beneath the bone.



We are no strangers to stumbling. We Brown women, we world-weary grande dames, we know the impact of a fall. Falls slow us, but rarely cripple. They hurt us, but seldom maim.

I can see, in the way you cry, in the way you strike out at faces and necks and scratch at the hands that hold you: in this life, you will trip, but you will not be pushed. You may fall, but not without first fighting to regain your balance.

You are already protesting injustices: the scarcity of milk or the slowness of its delivery; being repositioned in a lap or on a chest without your expressed consent. You know an infant’s rights; you will not stand for their violation.

It’s inspiring, your tenacity. You contend for the things you desire, and you already have such keen understanding of what those things are.

If you were older and someone other than my child, I might envy this in you—especially now, when it’s so difficult to discern not only what I want, but what will be best for both of us. You are direct and unafraid to be disruptive, unencumbered by the ballast of decorum.

These are values critical to writers—and were I the writer I set out to be as a child—the career kind, whose work yielded all the income necessary to live—I could afford to embrace such values.

But years ago, I fell. Into routine, into the maze of middle-class trappings, into the minutiae of an artless kind of world. I decided to hedge my bets. I’d write, sure, because I’d always wanted to, but in case it didn’t pay or I never got published, I’d seek out a sound profession. I’d teach, I told myself, for stability—and writing would fill all the excess spaces.

I did not contend for my deepest desire. And for many years, I watched compatriots succeed where I’d settled and publish via channels I’d passed up.

Even after I realized I’d always be better at writing than explaining how to write, I didn’t contend. I didn’t rail against practicality. I didn’t bristle at stability. I didn’t innovate or abandon convention.

I got older. I acquired the accouterments of independent living: an apartment, a car, and disposable income—and regardless of how little I loved my day job, I couldn’t bring myself to give it up in favor of unemployment, rejection letters and a room in a home that belonged to someone else.

And then you were born, bringing with you myriad ironies, this one being chief among them: the dream I deferred before I had a child to support is the dream I’ll need to pursue in order to support my child.

Unbeknown to you, we are at a crossroad. I can no longer afford to teach. The “stable” career I selected is among the most precarious of all.

Suddenly, I must reclaim what I’ve long suppressed, the part of myself I’m so proud of in you.


The New Normal.

By now, you’d intended to have explanations—for the life you lead and the home you’ve made and the diminishing balance in your bank accounts, for your student loan debt and your temporary inability to afford clothing that fits or a haircut. She does not need these now, but you do. Lord, how you need to be able to explain things to yourself.

You have no time to remember.

Your life has become a carousel–there’s a bobbing electric breast pump; four escalating stacks of ungraded essays; an apparition of DJ Lance Rock flailing his orange-clad arms; and the sound of your daughter’s breathtaking wail as a  soundtrack.

You don’t get much time to settle into her. Four days a week, you work, which means you’re gone no fewer than five hours and, often, closer to eight. When you’re home, you are still at work, stealing the attention she rightfully deserves, reassigning it to students and sleep. You feel guilty that your mother is with her all day and also helps with her at night. You worry that there’s prolonged stasis, that the arrival of your maternal instinct has been  waylaid by your work and the convenience of round-the-clock child care.

You are never enough, alone with her. You are never alone with her enough.

She is growing. You swear that her oft-uttered coo, “ah-pool,” is “apple.” She also says “up” rather clearly, when you do*. You resist the urge to proclaim her a genius, though you secretly believe it in your heart.

You will tell her she talked at two months.

But what more will you be able to tell her, if she asks, of her first quarter of life?

Mommy was tired. She was barely holding onto lucidity at her classroom lecterns. She yawned as she held you at home. She grumbled whenever she rose to pump milk at 3 in the morning. Her chest cramped every time she checked the fridge and saw that you were just one bottle away from hunger, that the ten bags once crowded into the freezer are down to two, that your appetite is growing quicker than her breasts’ supply.

You miss her. She’s holding your gaze so much longer now. Her crying is no longer constant. And though she’s only been with you 75 days, you feel like she’s been here forever. You feel like, years from now, she could be your dearest friend.

You rush home to smell her hair, to touch her skin, to try to elicit her smile. This last thing has recently become easier, for your serious daughter now anticipates your ritual of making your fingers her mobile, of widening your eyes when she coos.

She knows your face, your expressions, the varying lilts of your voice. You’re learning her sense of humor. You’re learning what keeps her from crying.

It’s the best education you’ve ever had.

*Once, every tenth time I say it or so. 😉


Non-Stress Test.

In a room marked “Triage,” on the Labor & Delivery floor at St. Mary’s, the nurse led us to an alcove, behind a blue curtain.

I was told to sit in a wide leather chair, the color of caramel, and asked a number of questions in quick succession: why did your doctor send you here? What is your height? What was your pre-baby weight? What is your current weight? Allergies? Medications? Due date? Have you felt the baby move today? I answered them all as quickly as they were asked.

I was there as a precaution. My obstetrician sent me, immediately following my prenatal appointment, where she diagnosed me with gestational hypertension and ticked off a litany of possible outcomes and procedures I might need to undergo in the two weeks left until my due date. She’d tossed around terms like induction (“which could take days, if your body’s resistant to the process…”) and “brewing” and preeclampsia. She also mentioned that, because I was measuring one centimeter smaller than I should, she was ordering an ultrasound in nine days—that is, of course, if I don’t go into labor before then.

There were other instructions: go to the lab and have blood drawn each week. Head over to Labor & Delivery twice a week, starting that day, for exactly the exercise this nurse was prepping me for.

I kept most of this to myself, limiting my discussion with the nurse to one-word responses. Neither of us seemed game for small talk.

I was too busy imagining labor and how most of it would occur on this very floor—sooner than later, if results were unfavorable here.

She took my blood pressure with an electric machine and as the cuff loosened around my biceps, we read the red numbers together: 121/81. “Well, it’s normal now,” she said, wryly. “I’ve cured you.”

I smiled, as she placed two tranducers on my abdomen: one to monitor your heart, the other to seek out contractions. A wide white band of elastic held each in place, as the nurse reclined the chair, elevating my feet.

She told me she’d return in twenty minutes, before ducking out and into the larger ward.

I stared at the machine to our left, with its running scroll of paper filled with crimson grids and crinkling black lines, searching for drastic dips or spikes, as though I could decipher their meaning. The orange numbers on the LCD screen fluctuated as a heart icon flickered, then disappeared beside them. I placed a hand just under my diaphragm and nestled further into the comfortable chair, basking in the room’s sterile chill. The coldness provided quite the contrast from the impermeable heat of my apartment, with its constantly, yet futilely whirring box fans. I think we were both giddy at the cooling-off of my skin.

Behind another curtain, a different nurse began to prep another mother. This was her third child. Her blood pressure was quite a bit higher than mine, but she seemed in rather good spirits.

After her test began, I realized that the sound of your heartbeat was indistinguishable from the sound of her child’s. The only distinctions were the scratchy asides of your movements, which were frequent and amusingly frisky.

I’ll miss that when you’re born, all the time I spend guessing at what your jutting appendages are saying about your personality and all the calm I feel when I touch any bit of skin and you push up from underneath it.

Non-stress tests, as my obstetrician explained them, are to ensure that the baby’s still happy in her environment. “If you don’t pass the test, we may have to get her out of there.”

The idea that my uterus could become a menacing place is alarming. But what’s worse is the knowledge that there are no non-stress tests that can so concretely gauge your happiness on the outside of my womb.

I will have to tend to that myself.

At the end of twenty minutes, the nurse returned to tell me things looked fine. She unhooked the elastic band, removed the sensors, and handed me a napkin to wipe away gel.

For now, my warm, round body’s still a happy place for you. For now, I’ll savor the sensors and squiggles, reassuring me you’re well.


A Fiction Attempt.


That was the only night I ever spent in Nathan’s arms. I gave the full heft of myself to that embrace, just went limp and made my spine an outward arc so I could gaze up at the ceiling. Never once felt in danger of falling.

Spanish moss dangled from the rafters; the whole club felt like a jungle aflutter with beastly gyration. The band, who’d come down all the way from  Chicago, played with a fervor their cool, smirking faces didn’t betray. Their congas fed pulsations to the floorboards. We felt the quaking rise up through our feet. That band and the sweat and the waggle of hips only inches apart, on every side, sent my husband and the two noisy babies I’d borne him deep into the back of my mind—not long and not for good, just for seconds at a time. Glorious, airy seconds at a time.

Now and then, Nathan leaned forward and let his lips graze my collarbone. Each time, my face flushed, cheeks aflame, and heat prickled every pore on my body. I’d recall his grin and how hungry it was, when he first spotted me in my black dress, looking for all the world like a sexy, sequined fish, the way the skirt hugged my hips and bloomed out at the knee. It was a risk, waiting for him out front, my hand poised to open the latch on our gate, before the sun even had a chance to go all the way down. But I was alone, for once—completely alone. I couldn’t help but make the best of it.

He hadn’t waited for the gate to open. He hopped it, eyes tearing straight down from my marceled hair to my scarlet toenails, and pulled us down, practically to our knees, to steal a kiss beyond the prying eyes of my neighbors. It was the only time we ever kissed square on the mouth. He told me, lifting me back to my feet, that I smelled like lilacs and home. He smelled like talcum and conquest. But I kept that to myself.

On the dance floor, what little there was of it, folks were watching. But folks were always watching, then holding forth on all the things they’d watched, days later, huddled over washbasins or whiling away a few minutes in line at the butcher’s.

I knew my name would burn up the telephone wires come the next day, but I let Nate kiss on me that night, every time he tried. I couldn’t help it. His lips had this way of humming a song against my skin, and all I wanted to do was hear it.

I should’ve known something wicked was coming. My Grandma Jo always used to say: you lose your shame, your death ain’t far behind.

Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Beautiful… and Ugly, Too.

We have been together for 25 weeks; by now, you have discovered the bulges and sprouts of your body. I know this, because I can feel you, testing its limits. At least twice a day, you knead a tender spot of flesh, just above my pelvis, or else I feel you nuzzling a space against my navel. I can only imagine your activity: the rubbing of an eyelid with a closed little fist; the wide-armed sprawl of a yawn; a casual crossing of legs after meals; an elbow jab to clear a favored uterine space. For some reason, I rarely imagine you kicking.

You have likely noticed your size—just over one pound and one foot—and how your bones have begun to gather weight and roundness. There are new discoveries to seize in each moment, intimate observations, to which I am not privy. I know you are marking all your fine hairs and appendages, each nostril and elbow and knee, and under the gums, the buds of what will be teeth. You don’t yet know the names of these things, have not learned all the uses of a tongue, beyond taste, and how powerful and painful its lashes. But they are present to you now, these delicate and crude protrusions you will own every day of your life.

I’m sure it thrills you now as, of course, it should. But there may come a time, when you will touch your tiny nose and you will frown as its flatness or point. You will pinch at the fat ’round your hips, and blush at how much of it bunches between thumb and forefinger. You will tilt your head and lament that your eyes are not a comelier color. You will wish your breasts were larger or smaller or less prone to the slight imbalance in size you will likely inherit from me. You will accrue scars that tell stories of mishaps you’d rather forget. You’ll grow wistful of ganglier days, before newfound curves began drawing unwanted attention.

Then one day, just before you’re ready, blood will begin to seep from a sacred orifice, pulling with it a pain as acute as it is indescribable. And slowly, you’ll forget how it felt to be carefree, when just a bath full of toys and bubbles left you feeling fresh and scrubbed, when you didn’t need an arsenal of puffs and pads and antiperspirants to prep for each new day.

It’s possible there will come a time when you’ll worry over why you were created woman, why you were trusted with such power, without being afforded the series of secret codes required to successfully mine it.

Sometimes, I’ll find you crying over woes you can’t articulate. And then there will be other times you’ll catch me at the same.

I hope you won’t inherit my catalog of insecurities, and I will bear the onus of buffering your esteem.

But as a woman, little, stray laments over looks and dreams and talents will always find their way to your core. You are thinking outwardly, anticipating the expectations of others, and often unwittingly shaping yourself in ways that meet them. Even if I make you feel like Supergirl or She-Ra, you’ll still squint in the mirror at the faintest sign of acne and you’ll wish you didn’t have to face the world, wearing the shine and scar of it. Even enveloped in love, you will find some small moment to doubt yourself.

We women are different this way, ever conscious of our beauties and our ugliness, too.

I’m just glad you didn’t know me at twelve, when my skin was mottled and pocked, my hair full of poofs and unpermed. I did not believe myself capable of outward beauty—and prettiness was a coveted commodity for me. I’d just had a growth spurt, but still bore the chubbiness of childhood. I walked among a group of girls more confident than I and wondered after the wells from which they drew their worth. (It would take me fifteen years to find my own.)

I wouldn’t have been very good company for the girl I hope you’ll be.

It’s best that you’re inheriting me now, after I’ve discovered how to look at myself and see only the potential for praise or improvement. Even as I sink into fits of insecurity over the uneven heft of my breasts, the tent and the tarp of my shirts, the incremental creeping up of pounds on hospital scales, the broadness and the widening of my face and feet and thighs, I can force myself into proper perspective and see the weight and weirdness as talismans of power.

I will teach you to embrace each part, the gorgeous and the ghoulish. And you will be a force, a gale, a woman who’s mastered her weaponry.

Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Out My Mind, Just in Time.

You had an emergency. First you called, four minutes before the start of my last class, without leaving a message. I didn’t intend to call back. I’d made progress this week; I could feel it. I was laying the groundwork for indifference.

It started Monday, when I talked while you regurgitated rationales, things I’m certain it’s become necessary for you to repeat to yourself, a battery of reasons why you’re perfectly within your rights, withholding your interest, your assistance, your presence. I listened to you, for about twenty minutes, reminding me that this—this menagerie of isolation and worry and loneliness I’d written to you about, the day before—was exactly why you suggested that I terminate the pregnancy in the first place: I told you I wouldn’t be there. I knew you’d want a partner in this. Wasn’t I upfront with you? Didn’t I tell you it would be this way? You didn’t listen.

I was listening, then—struck dumb, as is becoming typical now. My mental synapses aren’t as quick to fire; a cognitive sluggishness seems to have settled somewhere in my cerebrum. Maybe our daughter isn’t just siphoning nutrients; maybe she’s sloughing off parts of my intellect, too. It’s a thought I would’ve liked to run by you, one of many I’d only raise just to hear you refute.

Before I knew it, I was crying. I hate how often you make me cry. Just last Tuesday, it happened in a hospital, where I was waiting for an uncle to recover from surgery. I was on a grief-bender, having just attended a great-aunt’s funeral, not 72 hours before, where I cried for the better part of a day, over all the things I should’ve done for her and didn’t. I called you about it, foolishly, stubbornly, clinging to the memories that tethered you to other family funerals, ones that awkwardly arose during your infrequent visits, ones for extended family you’d not only met, but spent time with, ones you’d driven me to, with patience, in silence.

I wanted your ear, then. I wanted your ear, at the hospital, too, even though I already knew, by the time you bothered to call back, that my uncle would be fine. I wanted your voice—the one you use when I’m wrung dry, the one that falls left of condescension and melts the tension in my shoulders till I’m calm.

But you withheld it. Even when you called back, too late, you just held the phone and let the reception crackle between us. You’d offer a question in an affect so flat it was impossible for me to pretend that you cared. And I’d answer it, like an idiot, waiting, even as I began to know that nothing I’d say would close the space you’d opened between us.

I hung up, after two minutes that day, rushed away from the waiting room full of my family, and locked myself into a single-stall bathroom nearby. I sobbed, until I had to stuff the wrists of my sweatshirt into my mouth, to muffle myself.

By the end of our call this Monday, where you pressed and pressed for my agreement that yes, you’d told me if I kept the child, I’d bear her alone… and maybe you’d come around later, I’d grown weary of the cow-like tears, sliding from some unbidden space, for the third time in under two weeks.

The next morning, I wrote you again (it takes this long, these days, for me to defend myself). I explained that, in April, I didn’t need to be reminded of anything you’d said to me in November. It’s irrelevant now; my daughter is 24 weeks grown. She fidgets at 4 am. She likes ice cream and hearing me talk loudly into phones. She has tastebuds. We’ve moved on. I told you that these things you say aren’t helpful. (If I were sharper, I would’ve used the word “counterproductive,” but I worked with what I had.) “Every time we talk,” I typed, “I feel like you’re blaming me.”At the end of this message, I asked you: “Can’t you try a different approach?”

You wrote back. It was quick, something you dashed off on your Blackberry. “I am not blaming you,” you said, “and I will try.”

That was the day the indifference began. I’d been here before, with you, at some cliff’s edge about to shrug and take a dive. I didn’t want you anymore. We’d make do, I was telling myself. Maybe I’ll even love someone else, and my daughter won’t have to watch me beg her father for an inkling of his attention. A distant ache drained out of me and, left cold, I knew I’d no longer rush to take your calls. I wouldn’t ask you again to involve yourself. I wouldn’t expect you here for her birth or her birthdays. I wouldn’t want you here, the way you’ve been, these last months.

I was ready, yesterday, to ignore the call you’d left me before my class. Ready to wait days or weeks on end, like you do, to see what you wanted, if I decided to look into your needs at all.

But then there was a text two hours later. You had an emergency. It had to do with your mother, who’d called me twice this week and left ebullient messages, asking after “me and the baby,” calls I hadn’t yet returned, in part because of this burgeoning resolve I’d begun to build against you. I needed a day or two, to be sure it would stick. I needed to compartmentalize what I was feeling for you. She needn’t know, when we talked, that I was slowly hatching a plan to cut you out of my expectations, like an unwanted guest in a photograph. I needed to be sure my voice wouldn’t reveal this.

I needed a day not to think about you at all.

And now you were telling me, via text, that she’d taken ill. I wrote back immediately, said I was sorry to hear it, asked if you were okay, and when we talked soon after, I fell into my old habit of looking up flights home for you. Like a travel agent.

You thanked me for looking into it, but ultimately decided to hold off on purchasing the flight. When we hung up, I talked to my mother, who admonished me not to get too involved: “This is a family situation. And you are not a part of their family.”

She was right; of course, she was right. Hadn’t you spent the last five months reinforcing that for me?

But we talked again last night, and I asked you if you were worried. I was thinking about my own hospital trip and the funeral that had preceded it and how amplified my anxieties would’ve been if either instance had involved my own mother. You should’ve be home, seeing after her health, yourself; it was the only way to alleviate the panic you must’ve been feeling.

We talked about other things: television and work and the content of the voicemail your mother left me. Distractions. You asked if I’d gained a lot of weight. I asked if you wake up angry at me every day. You asked if I think of you. I told you how big the girl has gotten: “Right now, she’s a foot long and weighs about a pound.” “How do you know that?” “I have books and three websites.”

We spoke of other things, too, things about myself, things I knew were falling on closed ears, but I didn’t care. I needed to say them aloud, and I was too used to saying them to you.

This morning, you texted to say that you’d found your own flight. You’d gone to LAX and purchased it there. I still marvel at the profound difference in our approaches to problems. I never would’ve gone directly to an airport and asked for flight rates for the same day I expected to depart. I would’ve been too afraid they’d quote me some exorbitant fee and I’d have no back-up or bargaining chip. But you managed to find a flight you could afford, departing one half-hour after your inquiry.

It occurred to me, then, how accustomed I’ve been to making myself seem indispensable. Over time, leaping to your aid has been less about being a good partner and more about being a necessary one. Even now, I’m willing to wager that a part of me with which I’m not ready to contend just yet, sprang to action for you last night, because it misses the old reflex of need, the muscle memory of our relationship at full function.

There is part of me that wants you to need me, simply because there is part of me—especially now—that needs you.

But as I type, you’re flying toward the coast that raised you, probably remembering a time far before us, when it was you and your mother, a duo with an unspoken understanding about what would necessary to give and to withhold. Maybe you’re thinking of her sacrifices for you; maybe you’re thinking of yours for her. Maybe you’re thinking of how much you value you her, and how it’s unlikely she knows it.

I am.

And on this plane of thought, I’m neither needed nor wished for nor known.

I’m beginning to be okay with that.