The children sleep, closed
faces warm and lush,
round fruits. I leave them
curled in blankets to curl
around my computer
or The New Yorker.
My husband asks me to sit with him
on the sofa. I see too late
he meant to be kind.
His voice held something
warm and timid, an offering
gone now. He licks
his hurt by saying
I’ve abandoned us.
I didn’t mean to bruise the pear.
My thumb pressed
into milky green flesh.
We flush with misread wants.
I race to catch the only scrap
of self I can still see.
It shudders away, thin
paper napkin tossed
along the freeway. I run,
breathing too fast to tell him
MORNING, LOS ANGELES
Two now reach for me, want to hold
more than I can give. We stroll into clusters
of flies. Their hard, green bodies pop
against my face. My older daughter shouts,
“Shoo, fly!” I wave a pocket
of purring wings. The baby in my arms
nudges my chest, wanting. A white truck drives
past, radio loud enough to vibrate
my shoulders. I taste it in my throat,
chew on the squall of voices
and potholes. My mother went for a run
and didn’t return. She wrote a letter
from Phoenix of birds rising black
in the desert. Above us, a gold-throated
hummingbird shivers, suspended
like the dime-store Christmas ornament
on my father’s tree, glitter-sweet angel
Daughter, we are floating.
Your fingers whisper. Somewhere my mother jerks awake. On the yellow couch. Beside the kitchen counter. She remembers her name. You sleep with one new hand on my chest, asking for my breath. We have only just met, but you curl into me. Your lips flutter and click, nursing through our sleep.
Beneath us, Los Angeles. Lights shudder like the trilling mouths of birds. In the old place, robins swarmed South, draping an orange net over the yard and yanking berries from the hedge. Our front walk graffitied with their purple-berry shit.
I bled when you were born. Your sweet, bulging body pressed through me with all I’d rejected. An emptying. The sound of my groaning brought you caked-white, mouth searching, blue cord heaving between us: I offered up everything. When it was time for me to stand, I couldn’t, and we waited a little longer in the space of your first being.
Morning emerges now, dust fizzing on the plastic, half-closed blinds. You wake with startled arms, a beetle on her back, belly warm. You need to press your cheek to my cheek, mouth open to my neck. Breath smudged with milk.
I lie with you on the crackling chuck pad, aching where your body opened up mine to be born, sacred space stitched pink. I once wove these lines upon my mother. For days after she shuffled close-legged, torn perineum, holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end-
over-end down the street.
MY FORMER OBJECT OF EVERYTHING
You tore me as you emerged a formed
person, saying masquerades, gorgeous birds
dissolve, we have strings for our antiquities.
I forget that you are so young, that you were only
just born, in the scheme of things. I can’t stop saying
what you will remember years later to your daughter,
words frothing like yellow-jackets in the black oak,
their flashing bodies hard pebbles, stinging,
stinging into death.
You are three: Don’t hit me.
I could. I almost do. You know this before me.
Between us, the baby you once were nurses,
her mouth noisy and pleased.
You hold one hand on your hip, a painted tambourine
in the other, purple plastic heels rattling too big on your feet. My name is Linda, smiling a thin-mouthed secret
I am a mother too.
The baby mumbles. You play the bright tambourine. See, I’m laughing! Don’t you see?
The tambourine chatters and skates like branches scraping
the tin roof of the barn where I hid, a sound
large enough to blanket the missing earth beneath us,
loud enough to soften
I CAN’T REMEMBER SLEEPING ALONE
From the time you slid out with all that blood and feces,
you began to leave me. I began to leave you.
You clutch my necklace, my thumb, my nipple. A strand
of my hair loops around your ear. Outside, a green truck
heaves past. Our walls shiver. I lay you in the little-used
brown bassinet. Your cry leaps out, a coiled and trembling
deer. I wait too long to answer, air clotted like my grandmother’s
gelatin salads, tender boiled bones, my arms lost, sockets
aching, unable to reach for you again. Under the weight
of your sound I am quiet; I don’t tell everything. Dark words
skulk, broken-eyed, waiting. Some days omission
is the best love I can give.
Kate Bolton Bonnici is a writer, mother, and lawyer living with her family in Los Angeles. Kate is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law. She is originally from rural Alabama.