It was like watching the moon wane,
her child crawling toward me,
like watching a field go up at night
in hay fire, small tufts
embering and fast-moving
toward the forest, humid smoke
dimming the clogged sky.
This lack of oxygen, a gasp, unbreathing.
If the child had stopped, I would not have leaned
down and picked her body up. If the girl’s small frame
was less red, less milk fed, less whole
I would not have rested her against
my shoulder, curved against my breast
in an imitation of nourishment.
My task was to hold her head, to support
the neck, to not upset—the instinct
was to coo. I know nothing of how
to pacify fearsome creatures. One hand out,
one at the base of her gossamer spine. Cobwebs,
paddocks, bales. The tongue peeked out
from the mouth. Smoke, pointed warmth,
the body’s heat matched mine even in its smallness.
Holding another woman’s child was like spanning an underworld,
a foreign atmosphere, no breath, yet some sweet
moment of discovery, and vapor, and heat,
and a suffocating end like water.