Poems & Essays

19 Nov

Swaddling Sea

Babyhood No Response

I swam in the Gulf of Thailand with you. I held you, small as a kumquat, in my own dark, small sea. We listened to the clipped Parisian chatter as we bobbed up and down, weightless.  I felt small, furtive fish brush against my legs, a shudder moving through me. Perhaps you fluttered those brand-new eyelids or jerked your little arms, feeling me tense. I step more carefully. A stray dog snatches a piece of bread from a Western hand, then skitters away on the beach. 

Later you are jostled asleep in the back of a Thai taxi. (Which, my love, is not a taxi at all, but a truck with a rusty, makeshift canopy and two ad hoc benches erected on either side). There is a photo of me somewhere hanging on for dear life, trying to remember this moment even before it passes. And isn’t that like us as humans? Remembering things before they’ve even passed? We pass entire families riding on motor bikes, small, dark lagoons, ladyboys fanning themselves languidly with decorative fans. 

I walk to town with my sister, eat duck confit, French onion soup, listen to the waves reach the shore. The crashing is calmer at night, the sea and the sand have resolved something vital after nightfall. Large, bright birds skim the water’s edge for the fishermen’s leavings. The fishing boats are coming in, the nets are being folded, finally, just as the air begins to cool. We walk back after sunset, the air thick with fat, tropical mosquitoes. We both walk and swing our arms wildly as we do, trying to keep them at bay. “Look,” I imagine a squat elderly shop owner chuckling, a crooked finger pointed in our direction, “The Americans are fighting with themselves.” 

Back at our beachside hut, we curl into each other. I have already begun to place a protective hand over you. There I give into the fatigue that has set into the very marrow of my bones, and fall into a deep, black, and dreamless sleep. I don’t know if this exhaustion is jet lag, pregnancy, or both, but I give myself fully to it. It is a sleep like practicing becoming a corpse. Outside, the British teenagers are roaring with laughter. The hotel pool is warm as bath water, empty. 

This is what I imagine: 

You fall asleep too, sometime after I do, entranced and lulled by the sound of my breath, making its way through blood, bone, tissue, organ. You fall asleep exhausted too, growing so rapidly in your starless universe, that expansive ocean.  

This is what I know now that I didn’t know then: 

Your hair will be red at birth. They will have to cut you out of me. I will shake uncontrollably, racked with convulsions from the medicine in the spinal block. You will be nearly eleven pounds, nearly two feet long, and I will know I have grown a proper Viking. Your father’s shoulders will be hunched as he preens over to look at you, terrified. The first time you open your lungs, your cries will mark a perfect line right down the middle of my life. 

Mia Foster is a mother and poet living and working in the midwest. Some of her favorite poets include Kim Addonizio, Eloisa Amezcua, and Warsan Shire.

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