Notes from the Birth Year: On Gestation and Becoming
The radiance, for a time, gathered around my body. Her growing life, its glow.
And the fear, held in equal measure.
The things we hold closest are the ones that most elude us.
In the garden: an ungainly tree, laden with pears. Large enough to hold in the hand—a child’s hand, perhaps—but not ready to be plucked or eaten.
My daughter handles each piece of unripe fruit, joined to branch by a tiny umbilicus.
If one of these pears were pulled from the tree? Its future, refused. A spent, snubbed out thing.
Left on a counter, it would shrivel, harden; eventually rot.
* * *
At eighteen weeks, the fetus’ skin, so thin, must not be touched, lest it pull away from the body.
A shroud, unraveled.
To hold her in my hands—or my palm, rather, for she is just barely bigger than a piece of ripened fruit—would be to destroy her.
A larynx, yet unused; milky eyes. A heartbeat—the body’s stubborn engine.
The promise of her body, delicate organs jostling one another in the fight to become.
Minuscule lungs, kidneys churning and sucking. The tongue, working in the pit of the face.
A held breath, waiting.
* * *
With her becoming, so I, too, became. Through her birthing, I was birthed.
A hungry child, but not exceptionally so. Disoriented, that’s the word.
Midday blurred to evening, followed by an endless, milk-lit dawn.
We seldom left the apartment, each hour marked by the clanking of the radiator.
Senses locked on a single set of stimuli: baby’s cry, baby’s face. Soiled diaper, sour onesie.
Each whimper, amplified a hundredfold.
The constant feeding—a tether of human need.
When I did emerge, dazed, it was as though from a cocoon, an organism dissolved into sticky fluid.
A roaring in the ears.
Last Day in Laguna
If only I could capture the hours, the bright
bauble of the day. The walk to Anita St. Beach,
the gentle slope of pavement past clapboard
houses. One red-painted door, then another.
At the family beach house, a glass fish swivels
on a string; a garnet-eyed owl keeps its watch
from the corner of the garden. Inside, you find
a ship in a bottle, a collection of songbooks
and ceramic angels shelved under your great-
grandfather’s graduation portrait.
Someday, you’ll want to know where you come
from, and I’ll point to this memory:
you, at two, running along the side of the house—
sand-streaked, shivering, hosed clean
at day’s end. What we leave behind: a line of white
stones, picked from a bed of rocks. A chair
with the imprint of your body. Our shadows
stretched across asphalt: you, arms swinging,
high on your dad’s shoulders; me, seven-months
pregnant, trailing behind. I’m trying to hold
this memory for you, trying to catch every
last detail: your sleepy face pressed to mine,
low murmurs in the gathering dark. I leave
the door ajar and move through the house,
tidying what’s left of the day’s debris. Scattered
pillows, blocks, the last traces of play, erased,
as I steal to bed, climb wooden steps to where
your father waits with a book—nightstand, lamp-
glow, holding the last precious light of the day.
Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of ISAKO ISAKO, winner of the 2017 Alice James Award. She holds a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of Washington, and her poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Indiana Review, The Greensboro Review, Best New Poets, and DISMANTLE: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a founding editor of Lantern Review, she has received fellowships from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop and Kundiman, an organization dedicated to the cultivation of Asian American writing. Mia lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.