89: E-V-E

Margaret Atwood
My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
how to make spells.
I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.
A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
there is no either/or.
I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.
Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.
A word after a word
after a word is power.
At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.
This is a metaphor.
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.


I always thought that with motherhood came a monumental, seismic shift within your soul and flesh. Your blood becomes fortified, extra rich with the strength and love you need to endure sustaining a tiny life. Your eyes keener than the hawk, reflexes and impulses and synapses whipped into careful submission, primed to sustain a tiny life. The very marrow of your bones and the soles of your feet and the drums within your ears, all of the colors and waves and atoms that infuse your body to make you a You, they are robustly attuned to this task: sustaining a tiny life.

    Every day I am struck by my own capacity for disaster. Somewhere in the dawn my daughter stirs, restless, her small, gaping mouth seeking milk. Watch your nails, I think, as I grasp her under the arms, fingers pressing into new, fragile skin. Mind her head. I am so tired, so inexpressibly tired that the word tired has lost its meaning, leaving a numb, dry-eyed stupor in its wake. Why are you awake again, I despair silently, pressing her warmth to my chest, burying my face in her neck. She does not offer a reply, just a desperate smacking of her lips, and I have to acquiesce with a sigh. This is my indulgence, that little sigh, a pity party of one, tucked up underneath the brisk darkness of our room, in the winking eye of the distant golden moon. She draws the tides to her and  pushes them back while my little one gulps and swallows, clutching my skin, curling her toes, eyes blissfully shut. That clicking sound again; I hope she’s getting enough. I might drift to sleep, I might drop her, and I can already hear the sickening thud and feel the nauseating jolt of panic, the panicked gasp, hot, distressed tears. I close my eyes and gather her closer, banishing the nightmare. But it could happen.

I have changed, I think, but I have not witnessed it first hand. Like the steady creep of a sleeping bud to its flowering glory, you do not watch it occur, you simply witness the result. I feel no different than I did before my belly began to swell, and yet I am inexorably different. Or perhaps that’s the other way around.

(Foster her development.)

She is enigma shrouded in mystery folded into a diaper. I watch her eyes track my finger, the thick black text and vibrant images, I feel her bob and bounce against my stomach as I position her upright, as I read. I read to her often, and she listens, or doesn’t listen, or perhaps at this age she does both at the same time, hearing my voice and smelling my scent and always reaching and grasping for a tighter hold on this strange new world. I peer into her eyes and wonder what form her thoughts take, what color her emotions are, how sensitive she is to my moods; I kiss her cheeks endlessly, willing her to understand the love that I still cannot. I spell words and define words and whisper words into her hair, into the gentle curls that my midwife told me she had all those weeks ago, before she even fully left my body. Today I showed her her name: E-V-E. She gazed at the letters, seeing, not seeing. She said something in reply, something I couldn’t understand.

Today I watched the children in the park, clambering up into jungle gyms and swinging with wide, open smiles, running, running, running their short, stumpy legs into the waiting embrace of their father, their nanny, their mom. I saw my girl in their wide eyes and frenetic yelps, their questing limbs, their wild tempers. I thought of my job, of all those hours of distant misery, and I clutched her small body, patting her bottom, rocking her to sleep with the pacing of my feet, the steady gallop of my heartbeat. The first year goes by so fast. I thought of songs, and silly faces, and the frantic dance we do to catch up, to keep the hours from spilling out of our ever-shrinking glass. She yawned ferociously, eyes blinking shut, under the pale blue sky, the gently dying leaves. I thought of all the words I want her to know, to say out loud, in a small voice that I cannot yet hear, that will be all her own. All of the mystery and devotion and promises painfully kept, in this tiny body that grows, too fast, so slow: our creeping bud, our blooming flower.