In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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I am nine years old, watching my mother nurse my new baby brother. She is sitting in the old rocker, humming a thin, sweet thread of a song. The rocker is Danish modern and has big curved arms of polished wood and plaid upholstery. It is the only place in the whole house she can call her own.
I am sitting at her feet, enjoying a rare opportunity to be with her when she is still. Normally she hurries through the house with a plastic basket of laundry in her arms and a frozen tuna casserole defrosting on the kitchen counter. Normally she is talking on the black phone, pinning the receiver against her ear with her shoulder, using her free hands to write down a message or shoo my siblings and me away as we crash through the kitchen, fighting.
Her breasts were small and brown and useful, with long nipples sucked hard by four babies in succession. The areolas were like brooding dark shadows under the eyes of an insomniac girl.
There were moments, when she was kissing the damp hair on the baby’s head or supporting his vulnerable little neck, when everyone was at fragile peace with each other and the world was in balance. Then it would crack like an egg, and everything would be dripping, in pieces, ruined. That’s what I remember, sweetness and ruin, voice of thin milk, voice of broken glass. And the trees outside the windows, bare, black-twigged, reaching.