Lydia + The Cradle

Poet’s note:
Every October, there is a bittersweetness in the air. To quote L.M. Montgomery, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” October is the marking of my secondborn daughter’s birth, but it is also a marker of remembrance: as the month of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day (October 15th), I felt stirred to share two particular poems of mine. I am #oneinfour and will not be quiet about my experiences, both hopeful (as in Lydia) and mournful (as in The Cradle). I am glad to live in a world where there are Octobers, and where I am not alone.
Thank you for reading. — Maxine

Lydia

There is an empty pit in my womb
that cries out for the existence of you.
Hoping this is not a test, but truth instead
and even though we could never afford you
and ends are hard enough to connect;

I still feel you, in the deepest part of my womb,
feel your heart beating between mine,
crying out with that old, familiar song:
I love you, I love you, I love you;
Lydia.

You already had a name,
Daddy already saying “she” and “her”
as if he knew, and craving to hold you, just as I did.
Lydia, you already had a name.
Lydia, a place reserved in our hearts.
Lydia, never doubt you were wanted…

But Mommy and Daddy couldn’t afford you
and we never intended to be rid of you.
Though this empty pit in my womb is all for the best
and just so you know, in your non-existence;
I cried at the first sign that you were gone.
Mourning you in the same fashion mothers mourn miscarriages.

Because Lydia, we loved you before we even knew for sure.
Lydia, this empty womb waits for you.
Lydia, Lydia Lydia; our joy was in a waltz with fear
but we had such hope for you:
A dream for our little family, my little dear.

and Mommy’s been here before,
but there was never hope waiting
There was never solidity, never the want,
there was never you: our baby.
Lydia, wait for me until we’re ready.

The test is now negative,
guilt replacing you in my empty womb

But Lydia, I’ll wait for you.

The Cradle

This body was not carved correctly for a baby

That’s what I tell myself when you fell from my womb
cradle dropping bloodied chunks of my uterine lining
when I turned my stomach inside, outside, inside again
(I tried to hold you in)

While my tree linings swung cradle
from thin branch to thin branch
only to crash, to fall, cradle and all;
and I tried to hold you in,
tried to carve my failing womb into a cradle to house you

And she fell from the womb too soon
my womb, my body, unwilling to hold her in
while my mind was so desperate
to carve tree branches
into something sturdy

but my womb was made up of something brittle inside
and then tree branches snapped, then the cradle falls

And I wonder what my innards are carved from—
whole pieces of the child that was beginning to stain my underthings
Tree branches so brittle, this cradle might have been carved from bone
and I’d give up my ribcage just to hold you in
I’d give up my whole life just to know my body was carved correctly
to make a cradle for the baby I miscarried

I’d become a carpenter just to cut down that tree
before it falls, before cradle comes crashing down, baby and all
and this was all happening inside of me, so I wonder:
weren’t we carved from the same tree
wasn’t my body strong enough to carve a cradle rather than a casket

Weren’t you strong enough to sleep through it all;
Baby, sleep, don’t cry,
don’t fall.

© Maxine L. Peseke, 2015

Lydia is previously published in Swimming with Elephants Publications’ Catching Calliope Winter 2015 edition and The Cradle is previously published in Parade, Swimming with Elephants Publications’ 2018 anthology.

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

The hour that stretches–

into a day
looking forward to the end,
before the first bite of coffee
nips at my lips

I’d like to fall asleep before I’ve even woken.

into a week
wishing everybody could have
a Wednesday holiday,
just to offer midweek reprieve
between Monday blues
and Friday’s hopeful praise

I’d like to have a reason to wake up on Wednesdays again.

into a month
wondering when summer fades
into fall
and what will September bring
when July has already felt too long

I want to backtrack to November’s first snowfall.

into a year
I’ve seen thirty of them now,
and remember half as many:
prior to twelve is foggy
from sea of bad memories and trauma;
beyond twenty, I have recollected memories
and pushed more to the side,
and I’d prefer the next ten years
to be peaceful, and come in stride

But this hour pushes back, instead,
stretched
to infinity.

Sunset over Chapleau, Ontario.

© Maxine L. Peseke, July/August 2020

Guest Poet:

AC6B6C63-B90C-4491-BA7D-17BB570B6F73

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

firefly

this is my heart:
a fluttering, wild,
untamed thing;
like a dog on a leash, restrained.

is this panic? or worry?

somewhere, a toddler spins in circles,
without worry to dangers of dizzy–

this is my anxiety’s heartbeat.

though there is some comfort
to this mindless spin
because dizzy is just something
i’ve always known

— until a mother’s caring, loving death grip
pulls the toddler back, and i wonder:

mother, where art thou? 

at the bottom of holy orange bottles?

Saint Lorazepam, i pray to you,
and sing quiet curses, too,
for catching me in the middle of dizzy fall

or controlling it, and slowing it down

mother’s too-protective hand

like a breeze guiding autumn’s slow-falling leaf
before the harsh reality;
i am crushed beneath boot on hard ground. 

my nerves crumble like that: too quick.

this is what’s left of me,
the mess of my anxiety: a crumpled leaf.

the remaining pieces slip
through my fingers like sand,
but there is something sticky in here
that Saint Lorazepam
won’t hold:

sap of the fallen panic sticks to me.

and i cannot wash it off with water.
i cannot let it go.

but maybe i don’t want to,
because anxiety is all i’ve ever known;

familiar stranger, cold summer,
winter’s hot sweat, terrible lover.

maybe Saint Lorazepam can’t save this organized mess.

maybe there’s just not enough spark–

somewhere, there is a firefly
caught in a jar:

another wild thing,
held in captivity

and the world gasps
in shock and awe
and disgust and glee

watch the firefly flicker out,
i named her after me.

and Saint Lorazepam,
cursed be, sets the firefly free

but without a light.

somewhere, a toddler spins so dizzy
and a mother looks away.

somewhere, a dog’s leash snaps.

somewhere, the candle to Saint Lorazepam

goes out.


© Maxine L. Peseke, July 2020

Guest Poet:

AC6B6C63-B90C-4491-BA7D-17BB570B6F73

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

 

Before you know

what hate really is
you must feel it in your bones;
hand-shaking anger that skips up collarbones;
hate plays on your chest like a xylophone
and lodges itself in your throat,
crushes the song from your vocal chords.

Hate is a knee on your trachea.

Did hate feel that suffocating to you?
That you had to choke the air out of another human?
Did hate send you out the door,
gun in hand,
to bring home a dead body
heavy on your shoulders?

Or was it fear?

Before you are acquainted with fear,
you must return to childhood,
when every shadow of a tree is a monster;
before the tree was the monster,
with the dead body of a black boy who ran away,
left hanging as a symbol for all the world to see.

All the world saw and held their breath;

When George Floyd died in the span of seven minutes,
on international news, I held my breath, too,
and wondered what, or how, I would tell my daughter.
My summer girl, who has already contemplated the meaning
of her black skin, when a boy at seven years old told her
“I don’t like you because you’re black.”

The magic left her. 

You don’t know what loss really is,
until you’re at a loss for words,
and have to talk the magic back into your girl
and remind her how much magic she truly has
and tell her: black is not ugly.

Leah, your black is so beautiful. 

An uprising ignites when my daughter asks about another black death on the news,
and tells me, at age nine,
“I don’t want to die because of the colour of my skin.”
Hate is the lump in my throat that I swallow back,
while anger curls in my fingertips
and splits my knuckles from the inside out.

Hate was the knee on George Floyd’s trachea. 

Hate was women at church looking at my daughter’s ultrasound picture
and whispering about her “black lips” and “black nose.”

Hate is more names than I bear to list,
more names than I could possibly list;
Hate is a list of names that could be a poem on their own. 

Hate stopped and frisked.
Hate put a racist president in the White House.
Hate pulled my daughter out of an airport line
and searched through her hair. 

Hate told my daughter she wasn’t beautiful,
but Leah, your black is so so beautiful. 

Before you know what hate really is,
you need to stop, look in the mirror,
and stare it in the face.
And when you see it,
put your hands up,
Don’t. Shoot. 

Or do. 

When you finally know the hate in you,
eradicate it. Abolish it. Emancipate it.
Carve it out of your bones,
Dislodge it from your throat,
keep screaming until there’s nothing left. 

With all the hate I am acquainted with,
I will keep screaming until there’s nothing left;
and when there’s nothing else left, I will say again:

Leah, your black is so beautiful.


© Maxine L. Peseke, June 19 2020

 

Guest Poet:

leahandmax
Maxine, and her eldest daughter Leah; Christmas 2019.

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor; she also works closely with Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, as an organizational assistant. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively (and most recently) where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.

Since the pandemic, she has rejoined the group for regular virtual meetings.

rooted

My toes are prone to nails ingrown;
I keep digging up my nailbeds,
like a gardener turns soil to help
flowers grow,

Though my feet were not made for flowers,
so maybe I’m made of more tree limbs;
but resounding cracks are telltale
sign of a forest falling

Because my roots never took to ground.

I am prone to uprooting myself–
there is an inherent urge to move
crawling under my skin,
limbs thirsty for solid ground;

My roots tangled up
somewhere between Chesapeake Bay
and the muddy Rio Grande;
over-watered in Georgia’s swamp lands.

And Northern Ontario’s long, harsh winters
see so much time for roots to freeze–
this ground is frozen-hard
long into spring.

But then maybe I was never a tree
never flowering dogwood, dancing in the breeze
or strong pinon pine, stretching to the sky,
nor wizened oak or mighty maple-tree.

The truth is I never identified
with constant perennial things.
I never thought of myself as
everlasting;

I always wished to be a bird
and my patterns of coming and going,
like migration, supported that:
I am notorious for leaving.

I am prone to preening:
prettying up like peacock,
but more like a rock dove:
hardy/hearty (but not much to look at).

Recently, I’ve preened so much
my feathers have begun to fall out
and fail my wish for flight

(though there are those that could fly,
and instead use their battered feet:
like a roadrunner in the desert light) 

But at least my tangled roots and faulty feathers
have proven to be
a fine nest  — built for two —

Daughters, who are still trying to spread their wings
like their mother would like to do;

Daughters, who plant flowers
with their every blessed step;

Daughters, who have taught me
that I was never meant to be a tree,
but maybe that’s where my home
was meant to be.

And I can have wings,
And still be steady.


© Maxine L. Peseke, April 2020
artwork by Katrina K Guarascio

 

Guest Poet:

Maxine L. Peseke is a writer, mother, and sometimes freelance editor. She is currently living in a small Northern Ontario town, transplanted from New Mexico respectively (and most recently) where she originally met each of Saturday’s Sirens as part of the Albuquerque poetry community.