Watching You Sleep

Except for the rise and fall of a thin sheet/ draped across your chest, you could be dead.
-Dorianne Laux, “Awake”

Late October morning, I watch you sleep,
your arms spread, frog feet, like a crucified
Jesus. I should get up, pump my breasts, sweep.
I try to match my breathing to yours. I’d
hyperventilate, so I brush the fuzz
from your soft brown hair, gunk from your closed eyes,
watch your ribcage under pink pajamas.
I never wanted to co-sleep but why
would I stop you, when I know all too soon
you will say you hate me, refuse my hug.
Now the morning light swallows last night’s moon
and, I know, that too is a part of love.
You puppy yelp, you stretch, you yawn, you fart.
What I give up for this: work, sleep, sex, art.

What I give up for this: work, sleep, sex, art.
I change wet diapers, I let you sleep-nurse
for hours, use your stroller as a cart,
walk through town by the door where once a hearse
picked up the freshly embalmed dead. It’s a
restaurant now, Dad and I ate breakfast there each week
before your birth but now he works more days.
I walk you to the cemetery, the creek
that runs through it, the haunted angel,
the cross with steps that is the poet’s grave.
You cried too loud here, amongst a tangle
of mourners, lost, wearing suits, freshly shaved.
For the funeral of a soldier, who was once your age.
Nearly all the dead were once your age.

Nearly all the dead were once your age,
but not all, tuberculosis, Spanish flu,
whatever made their flesh go cold and beige
buried in tiny boxes like Little Boy Blue,
but smaller. There was a time when I made
myself think of you dead, in a little casket
to see if I could live with you buried, shaded
by a stone lamb, stone chair or stone basket
of flowers. It did not help that your crib,
your bath, your swing, all had warnings of how
they could kill you. You could choke on your bib,
swallow a button, just stop breathing. Now,
you sleep. I believe you still breathe without
watching you. Still there is a shred of doubt.

Watching you, still, there is a shred of doubt
that you will ever fall asleep by yourself.
They say I shouldn’t let you drift, mouth
on my nipple, eyes closed, I watching you, elfin
and perfect. I should put you down drowsy
or let you cry it out. I put my pinky
in your mouth, unlatch you. A lousy
sleep trainer, I give back in to your want, watch the inky
trees outside the bedroom window, how they
let go last summer’s leaves without a thought
of rules. Should I remove you, try to slip away,
watch TV, read, give your dad what he wants?
You are more perfect than us, even trees.
You fall asleep, unlatch, turn your head from me.

You fall asleep, unlatch, turn your head from me.
In a month we will start you on solids.
Winter squash, apple sauce, when all you eat
is no longer from me; your bones, eyelids
were grown in me and still grow with my milk.
Yesterday I let you lick the side
of a raw carrot. You gummed it, felt
it cold, hard in your mouth. You liked it. I’ve
mashed and frozen food for you. I let go
slowly. Soon, all of your flesh will not
have been eaten by, filtered through me. I know
the seed of you is half your dad caught
in my egg. But what feeds you, the bulk of
your body, started from my body, my love.

Your body started from my body, my love,
a strong margarita, and desire
for a child. I thought you’d be a boy of
your father’s stature, we saw your claw hammer
hand, fuzzy through the ultrasound and thought
you were giving us a sign to name
you Roscoe. The next ultrasound taught
us I was wrong, you were the same
sex as me. I still did not fully believe
until your birth, your swollen red
vulva, a girl. Like me. Like Eve.
Big eyed, small mouthed, black haired, pointed head.
We named you for a pearl, a band, a street,
a wine, a suicide, a flowering tree.

A wine, a suicide, a flowering tree,
Margaux, Margaux Magnolia. You wear
pink polka dot pants, a pink Hello Kitty
shirt—she is eating ice cream, she’s got a hair
bow, whiskers, little eyes, a little nose, wears light
pink herself. My mom chose this outfit
remembering my love of this white
cat. I had a set of six stamps that fit
in a tiny suitcase with an ink pad.
The ink pad got drier and drier
until the cat, in all her poses, became a sad
ghost of her once bright color.
On your new shirt, the cat’s bold colors keep.
Late October morning, I watch you sleep.

*Originally published in The Raintown Review.

Rachel Mehl lives in Bellingham, WA with her husband and two children.  She has an MFA from University of Oregon, and on-and-off maintains a Joe Bolton fan girl site at Find her @rachelamehl on Twitter.

Photograph by Tae In Kim.

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