I’m surprised to see you; after the lifetimes this stretched-out skin —this hive-of-busysadangry-bees mind —these over-firing neurons —these pulled-too-tight and SNAP! strands DNA have seen.
Thirty-two. In eight more years, I will be exactly twice the age as my eldest daughter —or, “her daughter is half her age;” she’s “too young to look that old;” “a baby with a baby;” …infantilized constantly.
Told I’m too young to feel this tired. But newborn children must sleep for seventeen hours and maybe it’s because the world is too little and too much, all at once such a wondrous blur but I saw a colour in nature I’d never seen before and it made me hyperventilate and there’s a train building up speed five miles away and sometimes I think about laying on the tracks, just to see just to see and a jet-engine is roaring and I think how often does an airplane crash into bedrooms at night and is it always a moment of sad, desperately sobbed prayers answered or does everybody feel the world moving in their veins?
Thirty-two, who even are you?
A ghost A child A mother A sister A sister A sister- in-arms.
Thirty-two; I’m surprised to see you.
But I wouldn’t run towards you, hopeful, if I didn’t believe every year of you has been worth it, and the next eight, or thirty-two, or (if I’m lucky) sixty, will be as beautiful as Just This:
In an effort to return to the root of my passion in poetry, I’ll be revisiting an old poem to enter into National Poetry Month; I’ve never been one to discipline myself into an agreement to do 30 poems for 30 days and so it seemed more appropriate instead to flip back in my notebook, of all the poems written from Saturday’s Sirens poetry salons, and find something that resonated with me still. I think the power in poetry is not only in the power or relief you find in writing the first draft, but also in how it sits with you, weeks or months or years later. Sometimes this is like visiting with an old friend for coffee and not skipping a beat, other times this is like meeting a stranger and somehow feeling as though you’ve known them for decades. This poem, particularly, was written on my birthday, July 17th, last year, and brought me back not only to the joyous summertime salon, but of warmer days and sunshine, while Northern Ontario spring still sits trapped beneath snow. So here’s to finding a safe place carved into the ice caverns of my heart, as I await warmer days again.
there is a room carved out of my heart, a dark cave with scarlet-and-purpled walls; there is an echo of a beat-beat that vibrates with safe words: passwords to my innermost soul that whisper gateways to a place where there is
no anxiety no lingering sadness that drips from cavern walls and forms stalagmites of regression.
in one of these rooms, there is a low swinging light: a teetering stalactite, which wards away the dark thoughts. they can’t invade, they have no place here in this room of scarlet and burgundy and gold.
flowers grow in the arteries of this heart-room, tree trunks make the ventricles; and hollowed out inside, there is a safe place; a secret garden of my heart-mind, where moss grows over the places where enemies once stayed.
here, even bitter memories that carry the tang of copper, that are as biting as a paper-cut, become sweet, eventually. here, everything is in bloom again:
like spring, where I lay on the soft moss of my fallen worries and put myself to sleep amongst the rubble and wake to renew, repair, resurrection.
there is a room carved out of my heart, where everything is a garden.
Orange shirts stand guard at the gates: sentries on either side protecting the children lost to residential school travesty; the sun-bright orange shines like a miracle, rooted amidst tragedy.
A sacred fire burns with tobacco offerings — peace mixes with the perfume of petrichor; Summer Solstice is here, but following a sticky-sweet heat wave, the clouds grieve and the wind rages
for the unmarked graves of children.
(but is this mine to grieve?)
Elsewhere, I imagine drums beckon thunder with the rain, and ribbon skirts and jingle dresses flash like lightning; nature grieves in sync with First Nations peoples — and of course: this is their land first.
Their cries bring a miraculous movement across a country; a so-called sovereign land built on the bones of babies whose culture and language was beaten and raped from their bodies.
(but is this mine to grieve?)
This is the tragedy: that it took too-many years for children’s souls to escape their dirt-prisons; the miracle is in the sun-bright orange shirts, the powerful grief of nature: that raging wind which calls the children home again.
And the sky opens: the lightning flashes, the thunder crashes; every sound above is a child crying — a parent, sister, brother, friend… sighing a breath of hopeful miraculous relief that their children will finally be free.
Poet’s note: Every October, there is a bittersweetness in the air. To quote L.M. Montgomery, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” October is the marking of my secondborn daughter’s birth, but it is also a marker of remembrance: as the month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15th), I felt stirred to share two particular poems of mine. I am #oneinfour and will not be quiet about my experiences, both hopeful (as in Lydia) and mournful (as in The Cradle). I am glad to live in a world where there are Octobers, and where I am not alone. Thank you for reading. — Maxine
There is an empty pit in my womb that cries out for the existence of you. Hoping this is not a test, but truth instead and even though we could never afford you and ends are hard enough to connect;
I still feel you, in the deepest part of my womb, feel your heart beating between mine, crying out with that old, familiar song: I love you, I love you, I love you; Lydia.
You already had a name, Daddy already saying “she” and “her” as if he knew, and craving to hold you, just as I did. Lydia, you already had a name. Lydia, a place reserved in our hearts. Lydia, never doubt you were wanted…
But Mommy and Daddy couldn’t afford you and we never intended to be rid of you. Though this empty pit in my womb is all for the best and just so you know, in your non-existence; I cried at the first sign that you were gone. Mourning you in the same fashion mothers mourn miscarriages.
Because Lydia, we loved you before we even knew for sure. Lydia, this empty womb waits for you. Lydia, Lydia Lydia; our joy was in a waltz with fear but we had such hope for you: A dream for our little family, my little dear.
and Mommy’s been here before, but there was never hope waiting There was never solidity, never the want, there was never you: our baby. Lydia, wait for me until we’re ready.
The test is now negative, guilt replacing you in my empty womb
But Lydia, I’ll wait for you.
This body was not carved correctly for a baby
That’s what I tell myself when you fell from my womb cradle dropping bloodied chunks of my uterine lining when I turned my stomach inside, outside, inside again (I tried to hold you in)
While my tree linings swung cradle from thin branch to thin branch only to crash, to fall, cradle and all; and I tried to hold you in, tried to carve my failing womb into a cradle to house you
And she fell from the womb too soon my womb, my body, unwilling to hold her in while my mind was so desperate to carve tree branches into something sturdy
but my womb was made up of something brittle inside and then tree branches snapped, then the cradle falls
And I wonder what my innards are carved from— whole pieces of the child that was beginning to stain my underthings Tree branches so brittle, this cradle might have been carved from bone and I’d give up my ribcage just to hold you in I’d give up my whole life just to know my body was carved correctly to make a cradle for the baby I miscarried
I’d become a carpenter just to cut down that tree before it falls, before cradle comes crashing down, baby and all and this was all happening inside of me, so I wonder: weren’t we carved from the same tree wasn’t my body strong enough to carve a cradle rather than a casket
Weren’t you strong enough to sleep through it all; Baby, sleep, don’t cry, don’t fall.
Lydia is previously published in Swimming with Elephants Publications’ Catching Calliope Winter 2015 edition and The Cradle is previously published in Parade, Swimming with Elephants Publications’ 2018 anthology.
Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.
Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.