What We Set in Motion


Months out from my bout, I return home
after training deltoids and biceps to push

past the letdown of exertion—to never
stop throwing punches. Our baby boy

bides time in L’s belly, two weeks late,
and she smiles, names me her gentle boxer

as I shadow my way down the hall
toward the shower. The next day,

after zero centimeters worth of progress,
she sends me back to the gym to spar,

to save my mind from running
the unnecessary laps. I spend round after

round risking and taking damage,
in search of that perfect left hook

to the body, that soft midsection crunch.
I land a few home and feel the accuracy

moving deeper than mechanics,
burying itself in the blue memory

below. Inside the ring I sweat out everything
but bob and weave, but balance and breath, bearing

each combination’s bad intent, until brutality
blossoms into something almost beautiful.


And then it’s time—as in the dark, we’re in it:
maternity wing of the hospital, the lengthening
hours of our son’s slow arrival. As in the dark,
a contraction’s wave ends, the wash of pain receding,
and L leans back into the rocking chair, back
into the chasm of exhaustion, eyelids
locking her exit from the room. I squat before her
and wait, her body buoyed in the open sea of labor,
as in the dark. My gaze fixes on the map
of monitors, scanning that pixilated horizon
for the next contraction’s approach. When it does,
as in the dark, her eyes flare inside the room
once more, hands raising to clasp
behind my neck, as in the dark. I hear the moan
of her spirit bearing this being into light, and I lift
her loaded weight, place pressure
on her hips and say, give me everything,
darling, as in the dark. There is no word for the infinite
divide between my desire and my inability to rock
this boy’s burden from her, to rock her from the tides
of hurt he’s riding in on—this is all her. As from the dark,
as from the sea, another wave builds inside her,
and I send whispers across water, coaching her deeper
into the swallow of its force, calling it what we want,
calling it love or joy or peace, as in the dark, barely trusting
each moment that moves her further from this shore,
where I wait for her, to plant our son into these arms.


When they tell us no more fluids. When they tell us time
has scorched the well of his arrival. When urgency cuts through

each gowned voice in the delivery room, the ghost in L’s face
says let them, and so we let them mine him by fire—with and through fire.

Restraints. No breath. Regional anesthesia. No breath. Nerve block.
Incision. Hemorrhage. And then he adds the sharp thunder of his cry

to the elements. They place him at the altar of her chest. With one hand
free to touch the curl and moisture of his hair, smoke clears from her smile.


In the nursery, this new kind of quiet
stretches itself inside the plastic, hospital-issued bassinet,

and I stare at my feet—
a sudden fear over the distance down

to them, over having no prayer for looking
into our son’s face, years from now, finding

it thinner, the flesh pulled tighter
around the cathedral of his skull,

the mind behind his eyes more
like ours, more tacked to the brittleness

of yesterday, days stacking into months,
memories like seeds spilled across another year.

What’s the ritual for forgiving ourselves
the mortal promise we set in motion,

pressed between the floral sheets,  
planting his life’s fabric into death’s seam?

The Epistemology of Cheerios

this the week of our son’s first
upright wobble from kitchen

to living-room    and he begins planting
tiny Os wherever his fleshy fingers

can reach    each first shelf    each chair
cushion      each pair of shoes    he goes

to bury a piece behind the TV
inside the pool of exposed wires

we’ve been saving him from
since he took to motion     and I let him

go for it    he survives    but why
this risk    how costly this whole-

grain crumb    back from
the wilderness of worry    for whom


King County Metro

In Seattle, in 1982, my mother beholds this man
boarding the bus, the one she’s already

turning into my father. His style (if you can
call it that): disarming disregard—a loud

Hawaiian-print shirt and knee-high tube socks
that reach up the deep tone of his legs,

toward the dizzying orange of running shorts.
Outside, the gray city blocks lurch

past wet windows, as he starts his shy sway
down the aisle. Months will pass

before he shatters his ankle during a Navy drill,
the service discharging him back into the everyday

teeth of the world. Two of four kids will arrive
before he meets the friend who teaches him

the art of roofing and, soon after, the crack pipe—
the attention it takes to manage either

without destroying the hands. The air brakes gasp
as he approaches my mother’s row,

each failed rehab and jail sentence still
decades off in the distance. So much waits

in the fabulous folds of tomorrow.
And my mother, who will take twenty years

to burn out her love for him, hesitates a moment
before making room beside her—the striking

brown face, poised above her head, smiling.
My mother will blame all that happens,

both good and bad, on this smile, which glows now,
ready to consume half of everything it gives.

The Epistemology of Rosemary

                     —for L

Together in the garden, a cigarette cradled
between her fingers, she tells me of breeding

cockatiels—clutch after successful clutch, and what
she can’t forget: the time of one-too-many and

the smallest chick pushed from the nest.
How she thought mistake and put it back again,

only to see the same, simple denial.
And then, for days, trying to make her hands

avian, to syringe-feed the bird into flight.
One thin month lies between us and our miscarriage,

and I feel her grow silent under the new vastness
of this wreckage. I try to talk about my father

breaking blighted pigeon eggs: at twelve, I thought
patience and pressed him to wait, one week, then two,

until frustration set and he crushed the shells
before me, against the coop. I wanted to gather up

each shard, to will those gossamer embryos
into growth again—          What do we rescue

now, at home, gleaning herbs in the evening,
as swallows swerve in the fallow air? I lean over

her shoulder: her hair smells of the rosemary we take,
and of the rosemary we leave to freeze in the garden.