by Tara DaPra
The Bike Ride
On a warm fall afternoon, the man ahead
of her in traffic rides an old motorcycle. He wears
a t-shirt, faded jeans, sunglasses, no helmet.
There’s nothing special about this bike, this
man: mid-forties, too skinny, cheap haircut. He is not
the image of sex-on-wheels a younger version
of this woman might have lusted after. Yet this woman, starting to feel the weight of her age and her situation, wants nothing more than to take the key from its ignition, leave her car at the stoplight, climb on the back
of this man’s motorcycle, and ride. She doesn’t wonder
if her pregnant belly will permit her arms
to wrap around his waist, whether the bike’s vibration will upset the baby tumbling inside her or soothe it.
As she opens the car door, engine still idling, and steps onto the road, she thinks only of the breeze on her skin and a boy she once loved, the time she burned her calf
on his tail pipe, the stiff red skin as it healed,
the wading pool on his balcony where they soaked
their feet on hot summer nights, and the feeling
that her life had once been brand new.
On the Night You Were Born
On the night you were born
the nurse pricked my finger and drew blood,
my sugar numbers low. I drank juice and
asked for broth. A tube was threaded
into my hand, liquids stinging, and I was waiting, waiting for the contractions to begin,
to feel what I should have been feeling.
Your father sat on the couch and read his Kindle, still not sure when his role would begin,
not knowing that it already had.
On the night you were born, I still wasn’t ready to be your mother.
I hadn’t yet pictured your face, your presence. I was pregnant and working and keeping two doctors’ visits each week
and grading papers and soaking in the bath
and writing down every bite I ate. I was being kicked
and kicked, enduring a shoulder or a head,
bulging, bursting at my skin. The doctor flipped
you right side down and then I was holding you in
just one more week and one more week, until my semester
ended and your lungs were ready and I could think about what came next.
On the night you were born, the waves finally came, and the aching tears, the blurry vision and the liquids back up my throat.
On the night you were born, relief from the pain came through a thread into my spine. Drips from the epidural relaxed my tense, tired muscles, my tense, tired mind and I dozed a final few hours. My legs stayed numb except for an itch, an unreachable tickle. Then the nurse reached her arm inside, toward you, and declared it time. The doctor shook my hand and taught me how to push, not with my stomach but lower, and my body knew what to do.
Your heart rate dropped and I breathed through an oxygen mask and the blood pressure cuff beeped and the doctor made a cut and I pushed and pushed and tore and pushed.
On the night you were born your father put down
his Kindle and watched what I could not see
and spoke the right words. He held my hand.
The lights were dim. The Beatles cooed. I breathed
into the mask. The cuff squeezed my arm. Four pushes, eight second counts. And then you arrived, tiny, smeared with black goo, crying, gasping, face wrinkled and clenched and I didn’t recognize you.
On the night you were born
you were a stranger.
How can a new mother write poetry with her mind clear of questions? Tiny, day-old fingers, spread wide across her breast, urging her to let down milk. What can a poem do
in the face of such perfection?
How can music be written against
the hum of nursing, milk-drunk sleep, unable to return the sleeping babe
to its crib? Instead, they fall asleep, cradled together, the child’s DNA manifest
in the mother’s brain, the mother’s DHA
in the baby’s milk. So it’s not forgetfulness, or absence of thought, but peace, a quiet she’s longed for but never possessed.
And the stillness is punctured only with moments of new anger, confirmation of her own wanting days, and the knowing that she must be another kind of mother.