from natural history
(the motherhood poems):
In the swamp
the air shimmers.
In the swamp
I father my boy. How nervous
the rat in the maze
brushing soft nose
on cardboard walls. How nervous
our boy must be
in his tiny chair
in the big room
of boys and girls. Once,
I wasn’t this soft, thought:
they should just learn, stay put. Once,
I was a behaviorist. Now, I am a reluctant girl-dad.
Boy-mom, or something. Menstruating
butchly on the soft pink carpet. Never
will I know the people who hurt him
who taught him to say “no ma’am.”
In six months, he should have
a new birth certificate, with my name.
(A lie.) Six months. Maybe less. He’s lucky
people say, but he’s not. His nervous brain,
heart beeping. I just hope
he stays sweet. Some boys don’t. I think
about moving to the swamp, homeschool.
His bird bones, my heart.
My heart beeping. My heart
hurts, he says one night. It beeping
too fast. I struggle to write this.
He’s a child of trauma. I will never know
whether he cared for the others or ate dog food.
A love unknowable, untouchable. Who
did what bad thing.
He got shot and died. I saw Kevin, he says,
but means “Heaven.” In this family
we don’t believe in angels. Do we? Where
God is? Him is the moon? The blue blue sky?
Him is in our house? How
Him so big? This
an unknowable love: not the child who
grows up, takes flight, but
the one who lands, here, unmoored
who demands to be written without
treacle or sap. His bones
show. His history, a shadow. Where
did he get that scar? Why
my skin like that? Him
don’t know. Mommy
don’t know. Daddy don’t.
(I am trying to write a text that approximates the sensation or experience of
becoming a mother. I am afraid it is boring. I am afraid no one will read this.)
When she emails me she says I love my son.
I nearly choke on my coffee. I tap onto the silver keys
greasy like everything in a house with a small child. A
bland reply. He is doing well, learning to read.
He becomes like us. Wears sandals, eats trail mix.
I paint his nails blue, but they laugh.
He talks about feelings. Covets
office supplies: dry erase markers, cold, inky highlighters,
ballpoint pens that write so smoothly
you’d like to eat them.
Suddenly, he can write. It’s all he wants to do. Still,
He can only count to 11. After that he says 14, 14, 16, 19, 19, 20.
Sometimes a stammer of 14 over and over, like a cd skipping
in my first black car, the car where I first kissed girls. Where
I bit Sarah once too hard on the neck, after she begged and begged
me to bite her. I didn’t want to, but I did anyway.
My earliest sexual memories are, like that—ambivalent.
I didn’t quite want—or I did, because I was curious, or—
sex, a damp thing that happens under a sheet
when you pretend to be asleep.
Sex, an ambivalent thing
that produces babies.
Kristen Stone is an essayist, poet, and educator living in Gainesville, Florida. She is the author of Domestication Handbook (Rogue Factorial, 2012) and The Story of Ruth and Eliza//self/help/work/book (Birds of Lace, 2014). You can read her blog about books and affect at kristenstone.com.