Barbara Lawhorn

The moments of greatest
tenderness, you don’t share

with anyone. Your newly come
daughter, in the moments after

your husband abandons you both
for the Survivor season finale.

Breathing the world for only hours,
at your milk-stone breast, wordless hunger

and need unmet, unable to nurse. A howl
in you both, still there as she thresholds

to teenager. Umbilical cord. You scissor it,
again and again. Your favorite professor,

passenger side of the minivan you swore
you’d never own. Wise and sorrowful.

It’s not about you, he said, not unkindly, meaning
it all. All of it. He read aloud to another version

of you. Saved you from social work. Gently
questioned the idea of your marriage, so young

and twenty years later, as divorce unspools,
he seems an oracle. His words a mantra.

Under your son’s coiled rage, his heart
is a honeycomb. He has to fight you before

you can pour him into your lap. Before his love
is something he can’t contain. He is a jelly jar, shattered.

You can’t hold his immense sweetness.
Mama, he croons, half-song-half-sob.

The first man you invite into your bed—into your
body—into your brain, you love profoundly, expansively

and without question. Maybe you shouldn’t. You have been walking
without skin. Even words fail to protect you or articulate

what is between you—Steinbeck’s folded map, creased with use,
such letters written, thousands of miles and three months

traversed. You whisper he does not have to be
so gentle. Yes. Yes, I do. His stillness shakes you.

You press your ear to skin, listen
to the cadence of his heart, steady—

tires rotating on road as you slip
into sleep, child in the back seat.

Good-bye. Good-bye. Good-bye.

Issue 9, 2017, pp 36-37