Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint (Gival Press, 2016), winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is a Cave Canem fellow and works as the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. She lives in Maryland.
My son’s head is a fist
rapping against the door of the world.
For now, it’s dressers, kitchen islands,
dining room tables that coax his clumsy, creating
small molehills of hurt breaching
the surface. The ice pack,
a cold kiss to lessen the blow equals
a frigid intrusion, a boy cannot be a boy
with all this mothering getting in the way.
Sometimes the floor plays accomplice
snagging an ankle, elbow, top lip to swell.
Other times it’s a tantrum, when he spills his limbs
onto the hardwood, frenzied then limp with anger,
tongue clotted with frustration,
a splay of 2 year-old emotion voiced in one winding wail.
My son cannot continue this path.
Black boys can’t lose control at 21, 30, even 45.
They don’t get do-overs.
So I let him flail about now,
let him run headfirst into the wall
learn how unyielding perceptions can be.
Bear the bruising now,
before he grows, enters a world
too eager to spill his blood, too blind to how red it is.
The books say that milk letdown
feels like pins and needles
but when you’re pumping at work
it’s more like lungs constricting
under the crush of chlorinated water.
You know, god willing, when she’s 16 or 25
you’ll never be this essential again.
So remember this smothering need now,
the engorged breasts, the suction, the release.
Know the ache swelling and flowing from you,
is caused by your hands cradling plastic bottles,
that your warm, twisting baby is elsewhere,
away from you. Know the sadness will threaten
to sweep you under, each time you take out the pump
and you can’t swim away from it. You must do this for her.
You must stay, you must drown.