All month I thought of your body,
soft with its delicious baby flesh
and fragile with its hidden bulbs and bones,
and knew you would be torn.
I pulled your small shoulders
closer as the days passed,
and some nights felt the tumor
rise beneath my palm like a burl
in a redwood forest,
under the duff of your skin.
When the day arrived I read fairy tales
to you until you floated waist-high
down the hallway, dressed in a paper gown.
Where did you go when you went
under? The blackberry brambles and wet
dunegrass of your coastal Oregon
childhood, black firs, gray sky?
I wanted to tell the surgeons
you take all happiness, all I know
of love. Where the bobcat hides,
the puffin nests above the maelstrom
in a rock slip. I couldn’t stop
seeing your body cut open,
the tunnels and star-shaped dendrites,
pink alcoves and fountains of mourning
and birth within you, exposed.
When you returned, with the elegant,
transparent hands of the dead,
the apple of poison was gone.
You stared back from the blue and white
petals of the body as if in a strange house,
sparrow alighting in the laurel thicket.
of your hair, you came home.
Susan, you’re in your twelfth week and my first
child floats inside you, a thumb-sized
salamander flapping its limbs,
carrying all of our secrets.
We’ve seen pictures — how they drift
in the amniotic sac, how they lose
their tails and fins. It’s three in the morning,
the windows are black, the rain
is crackling around us, and the body
of a friend was found last week.
For three months she crept
along the floor of the river like a sea nymph
staring at the boats and the trees
until she surfaced near Swan Island,
partly decomposed, skeletal. I just dreamed
that pieces of my sleeping body
detached under the covers and wriggled free,
muscles unraveling like eels from the bone
in the dark folds of our blankets. I often think
of falling asleep in the river, wrapped
by the cold; but I’m so lucky, here,
curled behind you in a cold room,
warm against the cleft of your skin
and the fragrant bramble of your hair
while inside you our small
Susan is crying because her breasts
won’t make enough milk. The whole world
has become tender, the skin of evening
splits like a ripe plum. I pretend
to understand. How she needs
to rest and eat. How things change
and replenish. Later she is asleep
in my arms and the baby is full of milk,
a rose-blue gift made of blood and milk,
sleeping against the perfect, round
moons of Susan’s skin. My hand
rests where the baby burst out
last week with one astounding leap,
wet and blue with eyes open
like an angel flying over the city.
There was her mother torn
open by love, and her father
kneeling with empty hands.