Here is Sleep, stretched on my right side, exuding warmth and calm so close to my chilled skin.
He is distant despite the proximity promised by the hands of clock and length of lingering darkness.
The lights from the street and solitary passing car slip between slightly parted blinds into long stripes across far white wall, chasing shadows to restful corners; their claws receded. No longer do they unfold toward me in the lonely dim.
In spite of the vow of peaceful nightfall, I am awake with stale breath held in chest, deconstructing a nightmare into a coiled grey sweater left on floor. The simplest of terrors paralyze, leaving me vulnerable prey to the night.
It is impossible to be lucid in the muck of these early hours, when the tiny tragedies of the ever turning world imprint dreams, causing Sleep to lack the relief he once promised.
Indifferent to my mistrust, Sleep breathes, soft and rhythmic, a silentious invitation to join him, the only sound breaking the night.
steal a moment under the clutter of ceiling fan loose at its screws and the breeze from open window advertising a night more temperate than the day more quiet and peaceful than the rumble of mind
I have chosen to settle
I loved nights like this when I was younger when I spent little time indoors and allowed myself the freedom and recklessness I thought was the promise of life I am glad I lived it then
nights like this
making out in a car with the first boy I fell in love with
walking with blissful intoxication through a city street
driving under the stars just outside the city limits where the light finally rests
dancing in the dark as I walked downtown with someone I barely knew but trusted completely
I wish I remembered more
I wish I hadn’t spent so much time looking toward the next moment and enjoyed the one in which I swam
I didn’t take it all for granted
how many times have I had the privilege of lying with eyes puddled closed feeling content with what I have lived believing there was nothing more life could gift me
it continues its kindness
and although I am sometimes clouded with doubt, I too recognize the love the ability the beauty the full gift of life
I am not one to use the word ‘blessed’ and the word ‘luck’ trivializes the sensation I am gifted in this life and despite pain, disappointment, failure, and setback I have so much
I fill with gratitude with feelings of having more than I deserve what more can I ask what more is there to attain these words are a two headed serpent and cannot translate the race of language or the fullness of thought clouding my mind
I will not use this moment to make any grand resolutions but I will allow the freedom of heart and mind to find my peace
I am grateful for this moment with sleeping dog at my side and mewing cat on the shoulder of couch the loud crank of the ceiling fan the breeze of the night through open window it does not tempt me to places I have once been
It merely reminds me of a life I too often lived unexamined
This poem is inspired by Julie Brokken’s photograph: Twilight Apache Plume. It is copyright material, and you may view the image on her website: http://www.juliebrokken.com/botanical-beings.html. Please scroll down about halfway to view the image. As well as the poem, I included a watercolor I did of the photograph. This poem and watercolor are in memory of New Mexico artist and poet Julie Brokken (1959-2020).
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
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.
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.
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.
Thirst sits heavy in my throat
Opaque smoke hangs
Confident in the New Mexican sky
Our ancient sky is now a holder of smoke
For all the fires burning to the west, Northwest
As the winds shift
Wraps the smoke into its four corners
I pray for rain to clear the atmosphere
I miss our blue sky
Miss seeing the Sandias
Then I feel guilt
I have no right to miss the sky
A family misses their child more
Their small son and his dog—the dog stayed with his boy
As the smoke stifled both
Found together, the pup curled in his lap
Reading the news article, I just can’t—
Tears for this lost. Tears for the raging fire
The angry fires that burn
Mother nature can be vicious in her descent
She may also be loving
We pray, I pray, on my knees for holy water,
For rain to fill the fiery sky
For a tsunami of water
To drench the burning lands, tress, homes
Loss of life is too much, we are already fighting a pandemic
And protests.And police brutality.Andunity.And.And.And—
It’s too much
I want to drown my thirst into moments of peace
Gulp tranquility, HOPE
Until my belly is full and I’m bloated
I want to breathe water
I pray for a universe of water to drench
Destructive fires—gift each life a chance
Water is humble—
It is difficult to ask for help
With faith, prayer, I look up and within a blink
There is a portion of the New Mexico sky
Giving me hope that eventually
The smoke will settle, the fires will succumb
This thirst quenched with life-healing water
Note: This work was inspired by a call for poets to write on the theme of water. I recorded this poem and it was shared during the “Volume 27 of Wednesday Night Poetry Virtual Open Mic, Poetry Through the Pandemic.” Poet, Author, Teaching Artist, Photographer and Host of Wednesday Night Poetry, Kai Coggin, invited poets to share poems about water to bring on the rains to drench the fires raging the west and Northwest parts of the United States. “Wednesday Night Poetry is physically held each week at Kollective Coffee+Tea in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, but is now held virtually to poets all over the world!”