When I drop off her son, she grabs a paper bag and fills it with soft white down, each tuft fountaining out from a small brown kernel.
I jump out of the van, hold the bag over the stalk while she strips off their paisley-shaped pods, a few stray seeds swirling up.
I remember how as a child I would reach to the splitting husks in the corner of my yard, pull out the silk, draw it apart, let each fly
one by one, explorers in parachutes, or hot air balloons, off to discover the world beyond stone wall and sumac.
–Are you sure you want me to take them all? –Oh god yes. I’m going to rip them up. I’ve never seen a monarch on any of them. Plus, they spread everywhere.
I sink my hand into the bag of silk treasure like a sachet of memories, –Did your elementary school teacher ever blind fold you, plunge your hand into strange bowls of stuff?
–Ha! Do you remember painting the pods gold and hanging them on Christmas trees? We laugh as I chase escapees so they won’t repopulate her yard.
–Good luck, she says, as I back down her drive with my son. I may never get a monarch either— but I got five minutes with another nearly fifty-year-old woman, laughing, remembering,
bending together to milkweed, when all we ever do is text.
Jennie Meyer, M.Div., is a mother, poet, yogi, and labyrinth walker. Her poetry is forthcoming or published in Folded Word, Anchor Magazine, Albatross, Artis Natura, Ascent Aspirations Magazine, The Avocet Weekly, Common Ground Review, and Patchwork Journal. Jennie lives in Gloucester, MA with her husband, three children, and resident wildlife.
We knew you’d be electric. The air was pregnant with pause.
We rocked and waited, sweating through the summer,
thought the thunder too far or not coming.
White-laced clouds gathered and we counted down
rumbles and rain, the rising and the cresting and
the dissipating pain. We didn’t know your weight
could dislodge, trace from arms to brain, veins constricting
until lightning made us learn to walk again.
Six weeks ‘til our smiles could rise to even.
Melissa Weaver lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she manages to tend to a steady husband, three small children, an unruly backyard garden and occasionally, a poem or two. A former English and ELL teacher, she seeks to be deeply rooted in her neighborhood, building relationships with kids and families who have come from all over the world. Her work has appeared in Mothers Always Write, The Christian Century, Anabaptist Witness, The Anabaptist Journal of Australia and New Zealand, and Transforming, a publication of Virginia Mennonite Missions.
It was a day just like this, temperate and clear, I stood on the porch that place of transient thoughts and watched them, filled with their fresh cells, flit in the yard, that small plot of earth where they moved this way and that. Memory has shuffled the enormous deck of days and placed this one on top and made the grass a brilliant peacock green, and the red azaleas so carnal you can almost hear them fainting. It is obviously spring, that much I know, a day where a generation ago bleached sheets on a clothesline would scoop up the wind, that thwapping sound of diligence, the invisible labor of women, and I wonder how this day could have ended with a grown woman in tears, surely an embarrassment now, but so serious then as I crossed the high wire between dusk and dinner, bath and bed, time when the universe would fold in upon the house and crumble in a great undoing— all the competence and order that I craved seemed a galaxy away, just out of reach, my small hand, like so many things— but maybe I might divine instruction for I was the certain the chaos out there was missing its mate as it was here with me and my babies, so atomic and fierce at the end of the day, all their fine wires crossed in a neurologic schism— I would listen for a frequency that might guide me, motherless I was missing the elders, like those bosomy women in Bruegel’s painting, dancing in the town square who might galvanize, pick goldenrod, or maybe bake bread. The second hand would hurry itself along while the minute hand would stick, as I would tender through the minefield of tiny eruptions, merge with the piles of things that didn’t really belong anymore to anything really like a foreshadowing of one of those yard sales of sad artifacts, rusty things, and not even the full attention of the sun could make this anything but sad, that suddenly all those hours and all those days, and all that oxygen has vaporized— like the day I fed Faith her winter squash in the sink so that I could ingeniously spray her off like some wonderful organic creature who had just emerged from clay and mud. And other days, the sound of the bath, oceanic, two in the tub, their feet soft as figs as I cleaned between their toes which seems extravagant and almost perplexing to me now, and watched them navigate their mildewed rubber duckies through the sea swells and I am so tired I start to think we really are at sea aboard one of those tugs we read about nightly, rough seas in say 1929, Little Tug saves the day! Ruminations like this rise above the surf, and the seamless curious chatter lifts up elegantly into the universe, I love that, but as the octaves drop over the years ahead little changes will elude me, thousands of tiny alterations will be swallowed by the busy din of chores—hear the clanking of dishes? the swoosh of juice in cups, the high pitched song of praise honoring microscopic-huge accomplishments—stairs to climb, sun-up-sun down— I reach the summit, the air thin by now, bedtime so close, steeling myself for this most delicate of maneuvers, the halting groan and cessation of their coal powered little engines—the ultimate reward of my fortitude and an umbilical battle of our mutual wills, then the rocker’s last creak, and in the darkness shadows like icebergs sweep across the green walls half-frozen I watch them in disbelief, in astonishment noticing their flushed cheeks, heads turned on the pillow, mouths agape as if cut off in mid-sentence when sleep simply overtook them and then the brief moment of terror— don’t take them— how on that day longing and love and guilty swells of loneliness would corrupt the hours, how my heart worked incessantly in my chest like a woodpecker beating against the minutia and the vexation, against the sense of permanence and the temporal—how they were mine and never really mine— flouncing in the yard as if it were a borderless field that stretched all the way back to the beginning of their beings, to the percolation of their cells, and it is undeniable they were impossibly sweet in little dresses, stained with strawberries, inhabiting the world they share in their opposing ways, the older one fierce in her love, the younger one an accidental handmaiden to the deity that is her older sister— and in the bright peacock green grass sits a baby boy, round and solid on his doughy bottom, all of his intellect puddling in his fat fists as he gnaws on them, stops, screams at the air, because he has just looked up and noticed the giant sycamore towering above him in a maze of crushing limbs and chirping birds. He is unafraid. And they love him dearly as they might love a giant bullfrog in summer. And now, on this April morning, the little ones are made of dream and air– these children with their longer bones, depart, powered by their own sturdy legs, and turn back once to say goodbye, with their deeper voices, their backpacks already full of burdens.
Rachael Mayer‘s poetry has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Hiram Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Hudson Valley Echoes, Affilia, The Avatar Review, and Poetry Quarterly. Motherhood has been her highest calling. She is a feminist, poet, social worker, health coach, and a stay at home home for many years.
I say “her,” but of course I had no biological evidence that she was a girl. There is painfully little evidence of her at all, in fact: a photograph on my phone, a positive pregnancy test, and a Father’s Day card I bought for my husband but never got to give him. That’s why I think I need to write this. I need to create some evidence, something real in this world that says, “She was here.”
I think of her as a girl because, before I got pregnant, I had a dream. I was standing next to my kitchen table, painting a butterfly onto the freckled cheek of my daughter. When I was finished painting her face, I tucked a lock of long, dark hair behind her ear, and she turned and trotted off. Then I woke up. She was like looking at a photograph: all me. I thought to myself, What if that was her? So, I carry that small vignette, that momentary flash of her smile before she turned away, the touch of her hair, nestled inside me like a diamond ring inside its box.
I knew I was pregnant for a week before I started bleeding on a Saturday morning. My husband and I had been trying to get pregnant for eleven months before the “not” on the digital pregnancy test screen finally disappeared, and I felt a jolt inside my gut, like your seatbelt catching you at a sudden stop, or the snap-back of a rubber band. He was in the kitchen making breakfast, and I flew down the stairs to show him, bearing that pregnancy test like a torch.
My niece graduated from high school that day, and I kept the news secret through the entire ceremony, watching, dizzy with silent elation, as three-hundred identically-dressed students had their names called and walked across the stage. I dutifully took photos with the newly-minted graduate and her family afterward; I made conversation with the five-months-pregnant guest at the party that afternoon while imagining the fall sweaters and scarves I would use to dress my own baby bump in five months’ time. I waited to say a word until that night when the party was nearly ending, when my niece had left to attend someone else’s celebration, my sister was drinking wine and laughing with the few remaining guests on the back deck, and my mother was starting to nod off on the couch.
For the rest of that week, I felt like I could fly. I remember literally skipping down the hallway one afternoon on the way to my office to google early pregnancy symptoms and browse Amazon for infant bathtubs or carriers or nursing bras. I came across a post on one of my often-visited “Trying to Conceive” discussion boards from a woman who took a second pregnancy test on a whim a few days after her first one, and it came up negative. It turned out that she was about to miscarry.
It turned out that I would also have a negative pregnancy test later that day, and it turned out that I too was about to miscarry.
My friends who’d had miscarriages told me of crippling grief and even long-lasting depression and anxiety after their losses, but it wasn’t the loss that shook me; it was the uncertainty. Just as it was when Andy and I had been trying to conceive, it wasn’t really the lack of a child that turned me inside-out; it was the not knowing. I had gone to the doctor the same day that I’d read the post about the negative test and then ran to the bathroom and taken my own, and the nurse drew blood to check my hormone levels. She told me the results would be in the next day, but it ended up taking several. That part—the waiting—was like having my heart in a vice. I remember lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, willing my phone to ring so I would know whether I was a mother or not. Lying there, every minute that ticked away was like another brick on my chest, and I thought, I cannot take this.
When I finally did get the news that my levels were extremely low for a five-week-old pregnancy, and when I started bleeding on that Saturday morning, it wasn’t grief I felt, but relief. I know myself well enough now to understand that that’s just who I am: I can deal with whatever happens to me, as long as I can look it in the eye. The not knowing, the standing on the edge of it, that’s where my real suffering is. I know this about myself now, but at the time I couldn’t shake the fear that something was wrong with me because I actually felt better when the miscarriage happened. I cried once, but it was disappointment, not grief. I buried my face into my husband’s flannel shirt and murmured, “I was really excited.” I used up a box of tissues over the meanness of it, the tease, the “back to the drawing board” feeling of trying to get pregnant. Then, the next day, I googled how long you have to wait after a miscarriage before you can start trying again, and I carried on.
Three months later, I was pregnant with my son. Instead of the light-as-air giddiness I’d felt with the first pregnancy, I was terrified, convinced I’d lose this baby too, afraid of the disappointment, afraid of what two miscarriages in a row might mean for my chances of ever conceiving. I didn’t tell anyone other than my husband for eleven weeks, and even then, I only told my sister until I was fourteen-and-a-half weeks along, when I told the rest of my family. I waited to tell my colleagues at work until the morning sickness made it obvious, and I didn’t say a word to anyone else for a full eighteen weeks. I didn’t scour baby gear reviews; I didn’t think about nursery themes. I cautioned the few I told not to get too excited.
Now that was a loss I felt right away. The miscarriage had stolen a long-awaited moment that should have been filled with excitement and joy. I should have been comparing my tiny belly to those of my pregnant friends, commiserating with them over morning sickness and caffeine withdrawal. Instead, the only person other than my husband I spoke to regularly about my pregnancy was God, begging Him to let me keep this one and promising the tiny soul inside me that I would take care of him if he would just stick with me.
He did stick with me, and on May 25th, 2017 at 1:36 a.m., I delivered my boy, Owen John, into the world.
He. Was. Everything. I was woozy with anesthesia from the C-section and exhaustion from the preceding sixteen hours of labor, but the second the doctor held him up over the surgical drape and I had my first ever look at my son, he felt, clear as day, like he belonged to me. The nurses wrapped him up in a blanket and put a pink-and-blue striped newborn hat on him and placed him in the crook of my arm, and everything around me went fuzzy as I stared at him for the whole bedridden ride from the operating room to the recovery room. I did not take my eyes off his tiny, red, sleeping face. This was my son, forever, and I wanted to memorize what he looked like, at this beginning-of-forever moment.
This is supposed to be the end of my miscarriage story. I’m supposed to have had a happy ending because I was able to get pregnant again and deliver a healthy child. This is supposed to be the part where I stop talking about it because my son is my “rainbow baby,” the promise after the flood; the dawn after the dark. But that’s not even remotely true because my son is not the ending of someone else’s story. He is his own story, perfect and whole all by himself.
It is also not the end of the story because it’s the start of the chapter that I apparently skipped over when I miscarried. It was about a week after Owen’s birth, and we were driving home from his first doctor’s appointment. At this point he had become an actual fixture in our lives; I knew his cry by heart, and I had seen him look for me when he heard my voice from across the room. My husband and I had learned at the doctor’s that he seemed to be struggling with breastfeeding and we might consider switching to formula; we’d learned that he might sleep better if we left his arms free when we swaddled him. We were passing the fruit stand near our house and I was thinking about these little preferences that Owen had, how whole and how real he was, and it was then that I understood all that she would have become. She would have grown into a child who was just as unique and complete and human and mineas Owen was, and at that moment, in front of the fruit stand, I felt that knowledge sink into my heart like a stone into the sea. For the first time I felt my miscarriage not as a disappointment or a frustrating re-setting of the calendar or even as the thief of the joy of my second pregnancy, but as a loss.
Owen’s birth wasn’t the end of her story because that story continues, and it probably will forever, and I am caught flipping around between her pages, constantly moving forward and then jumping back to the beginning just when I think I’ve found a stopping point. It’s a confusing story and I don’t know how to interpret it sometimes. My family is complete with my one perfect son, and I know if I’d had her, I wouldn’t have him. How can I feel sad for the loss of something that would have kept me from my greatest joy? Still, every now and then, when I see mothers going shopping or having lunch with their teenage girls, or when I hear about women planning their daughters’ weddings or dressing their toddler girls in headbands and matching “mini-me” outfits, I think about her and imagine myself doing the same things. I wonder whether she would have been as happy as Owen, or as stubborn, or as easy to get to sleep. Her story is complex and ongoing, and so is my part in it, and I don’t know where to land.
Just as Owen isn’t the end of her story because he has his own, her story is her own too, and she doesn’t need her brother to finish it for her. She was here. She was real, even if only for a short time. For months I thought I had nothing except my dream to remember her by, until one night when I was scrolling through some photographs on my phone. Several of them were from my niece’s graduation, and I was in one of them, smiling with pride for my niece, but also with secret excitement and hope because I was pregnant. It’s a photograph of my niece and me, but it’s also a photograph of her.
She was here. She was real. She has her own story, and she deserves to have it told.
Stacey Hohman McClain is a teacher and writer whose work has appeared in Away: Experiments in Travel and Telling and Literary Mama. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and son.