For X. From the shallows our son watches me play dead. He sits on river rocks chucking sand, burying strawberries while I float down- stream, breath wound bright in the gut, a body both here and of other waters. The day he was born, midwives touched your face, your hands, tested nerve and pulse, dripped saline along your thigh, numbered blades—their ceremony for the first cuts, before swaddling blankets, fever syrups, bath time and mud. These are places the boy is ticklish: lunette of the earlobe kneecaps madrigal fat of his belly collarbone toes. These words he knows, but will not say: yes horse sleep white. * Again the boy cries himself hoarse as we sing through these hours right before dawn. First the alphabet, then “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” then “The Great Pretender.” Our words like foxes, like milk teeth. We can’t hold him quiet. His body must, they say, learn now about hunger, about being alone. So we hum and shhh into the yellow bruise of Sunday, melodies the shape of bluets and yearlings, blood pudding and this worry, this awe we have no name for— * When he asks, make no mention of those names we saved for the children we lost—his ghost siblings, their phantom initials. Of tests and lemongrass, nettle leaf and sharps, forms in triplicate, clinics painted with lambs, comets, maps to nerve meridians, hearts: say nothing. Never speak of that quiet after the kicking stopped. Believe in time he’ll learn our cells betray each miracle and wild conundrum they’re coded to bear. If he needs an answer, give him morning mass off W. 16th: how aisle and chancel roared with lilies and cornets; how we dared a new unknown to find us, there, in song.
Copyright © 2018 by R. A. Villanueva. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.