All month I thought of your body, soft with its delicious baby flesh and fragile with its hidden bulbs and bones, and knew you would be torn. I pulled your small shoulders closer as the days passed, and some nights felt the tumor rise beneath my palm like a burl in a redwood forest, worrywart, skullcap under the duff of your skin. When the day arrived I read fairy tales to you until you floated waist-high down the hallway, dressed in a paper gown. Where did you go when you went under? The blackberry brambles and wet dunegrass of your coastal Oregon childhood, black firs, gray sky? I wanted to tell the surgeons you take all happiness, all I know of love. Where the bobcat hides, the puffin nests above the maelstrom in a rock slip. I couldn’t stop seeing your body cut open, the tunnels and star-shaped dendrites, pink alcoves and fountains of mourning and birth within you, exposed. When you returned, with the elegant, transparent hands of the dead, the apple of poison was gone. You stared back from the blue and white petals of the body as if in a strange house, sparrow alighting in the laurel thicket. of your hair, you came home.
Susan, you’re in your twelfth week and my first child floats inside you, a thumb-sized salamander flapping its limbs, carrying all of our secrets. We’ve seen pictures — how they drift in the amniotic sac, how they lose their tails and fins. It’s three in the morning, the windows are black, the rain is crackling around us, and the body of a friend was found last week. For three months she crept along the floor of the river like a sea nymph staring at the boats and the trees until she surfaced near Swan Island, partly decomposed, skeletal. I just dreamed that pieces of my sleeping body detached under the covers and wriggled free, muscles unraveling like eels from the bone in the dark folds of our blankets. I often think of falling asleep in the river, wrapped by the cold; but I’m so lucky, here, curled behind you in a cold room, warm against the cleft of your skin and the fragrant bramble of your hair while inside you our small traveler swims.
Susan is crying because her breasts won’t make enough milk. The whole world has become tender, the skin of evening splits like a ripe plum. I pretend to understand. How she needs to rest and eat. How things change and replenish. Later she is asleep in my arms and the baby is full of milk, a rose-blue gift made of blood and milk, sleeping against the perfect, round moons of Susan’s skin. My hand rests where the baby burst out last week with one astounding leap, wet and blue with eyes open like an angel flying over the city. There was her mother torn open by love, and her father kneeling with empty hands.