When an idea for a new book comes to me, it feels obsessive and overwhelming and makes me almost panicky. I cope by breaking the writing down into small daily tasks. Becoming a mother felt, and still feels, the same way. The fact that my babies depended on me for their very lives was almost paralyzing. There were times when I had to force myself not to think about the immensity of the responsibility or I would have lost my mind.
Now I look back on those days, and they still feel overwhelming. I remember rocking and rocking my son, singing the Circle Game over and over, as he struggled to find peace and sleep. I remember how my daughter couldn’t fall asleep unless she was touching me, my hand on her arm or leg. I remember slowing my breathing down because her breathing would slow and deepen too, and finally she would drift off. Later, when I flew across the world and met my youngest, she first stared at me in suspicion, her dark eyes fixed on mine, and then kicked her legs, started laughing and just kept on laughing.
One thing that helped me in a strange way, back then, was the sense that before any of my children were born, they already were. That my presence in their lives was part of a continuum that began before any of us were born. There’s nothing rational about that feeling, but there’s nothing rational about having a child. The poem below stuns me.
Fugue, by Suji Kwock Kim
Out of albumen and blood, out of amniotic brine,
placental sea-swell, trough, salt-spume and foam,
you came to us infinitely far, little traveler, from the other world—
skull-keel and heel-hull socketed to pelvic cradle,
rib-rigging, bowsprit-spine, driftwood-bone,
the ship of you scudding wave after wave of what-might-never-
Memory, stay faithful to this moment, which will never return:
may I never forget when we first saw you, there on the other side,
still fish-gilled, water-lunged,
your eelgrass-hair and seahorse-skeleton floating in the sonogram
like a ghost from tomorrow,
moth-breath quicksilver in snowy pixels, fists in sleep-twitch,
not yet alive but not not,
you who were and were not,
a thunder of bloodbeats sutured in green jags on the ultrasound
like hooves galloping from eternity to time,
feet kicking bone-creel and womb-wall,
while we waited, never to waken in that world again,
the world without the shadow of your death,
with no you or not-you, no is or was or might-have-been or never-
May I never forget when we first saw you in your afterlife
which was life,
soaked otter-pelt and swan-down crowning,
face cauled in blood and mucus-mud, eyes soldered shut,
wet birth-cord rooting you from one world to the next,
you who might not have lived, might never have been born, like
all the others,
as we looked at every pock and crook of your skull,
every clotted hair, seal-slick on your blue-black scalp,
every lash, every nail, every pore, every breath,
with so much wonder that wonder is not the word—
For more information about Suji Kwock Kim, please click here.
Thank you for this poem.