Firsts: With My First Daughter Text and Audio
“Firsts: With My First Daughter.”
Listen to the first take of the audio: (contains mistakes, but you get the idea:)
The river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing, down to the sea. Mother carry me, your child I will always be. Mother carry me, down to the sea.
that photo of us the night of our first ballet, you in a red coat to match my lipstick, Christmas lights in the background from the neighbours’ yards all around the park. maybe swan lake was too much for a little girl because you got lost into sleepiness before the last act… after the performance, walking slow and ready for bed, out in the fresh white snow so quiet in the dark city streets to the car…the story, oh the story, what was the story? my little girl, red lipstick, red coat with the fur collar, one of many firsts you and I shared
another…hours on the riverbank wild, dirty, no sense of time passing, catching crayfish, water bugs, frogs with old nets we bought at the dollar store needing nothing at all but the water, the sand, the sun, and the rocks you gathered and stuffed into your pockets, each one holding the miracles of 100 million years
another…cuddled lying in my bed blowing that single soft white feather into the air, taking turns, your sister, brother, you, and I laughing, the simplicity, the purity of that moment, how that single white feather embodied the gentleness and joy of us
another… every morning opening the door, you, 8 months living only in soft cotton sleepers, you didn’t ever cry when you woke but looked around waiting, trusting I would come…in those moments before you’d discover me watching, I’d take in everything about you, an infinite roundness, circling around my heart, your eyes and face, that one big soft curl at the top of your head, your ears how they poked out just a wee bit at the top, as if that impish nature of yours just couldn’t be contained. and when you turned your precious head toward the doorway, your big brown eyes reflecting what you saw of me, you could not contain that expression of air, and your face turned bright, a light that spread like the waking of the sun, your arms pumped wild with yearning for me to gather you up — an explosion of joy when your eyes found me
another…in the books we read late into the night, we were brave like Liza Lou, we were so mad like Little Critter, we said Good Night, Good Knight, found a Mother for Choco, and I Loved You Forever. singing just one more song as you boisterously joined in for “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” or at Christmas, “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright” or “oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining” or when I sent you all into sleep with “ahnee koo-ney, shao-u-na-nee” a song my own mother taught me from where it came we didn’t know or even what it meant, not that it matters. with every note, we felt the sorrow, the longing, and the yearning for the ones we love
oh, but the best first…the best one…it took one whole Sunday from morning to 8 PM for you to be born, to claim your place in the world, to brand my heart with the imprint of your tiny fingers. a calm quiet day, no drama or rush or emergencies – just you and I, babe, in the hours before our official meeting, our first separation as independent bodies, separate people, and you were everything I had hoped for. just as visiting hours ended, you began, your father declaring “it’s a girl,” and she became you, Olivia, even your name turns the mouth into softness, “oh”livia, of the olive tree, the tree of peace. 8:00 on a Sunday you were born, the number so perfect, the curves of a line looping over and over again, the sign of infinity when turned on its side
not every first is beautiful. a week of making gallons of iced tea, thirst like you were lost in the desert, and when you said your eyes were funny, I pushed our way into the doctor’s office, demanded tests, a bag full of fruit and vegetables at my feet to feed you once we drew your blood. later, me in the entrance of a friend gathering you three to leave, getting the call on my old flip phone, and the words of the doctor, the expected but unexpected diagnosis. me, all business, moved right to “we got this,” your father cried in the small hospital kitchen while we made toast and asked me, “why couldn’t it have been me?” I will never forget his blue eyes pleading for an answer. and you, how you knew, how you said to me from your bed, so grown up, but just a little girl, “I’m going to have this for the rest of my life,” your words a statement, rather than a question. and at first you still fit in the safe spaces in me, our common goal to heal you. but the years wore on us, you grew outside of what I could contain, this time a more violent birth, your privacy violated, boundaries you could not draw because this was life or death, everyone watching, weighing your every single move as if every play you made in the game measured your worth, your character, your strength. although you would not die today, you experienced so many smaller deaths. how it changed the landscape of us, stirred up the waters and turned our small pond that spun with life into the cold, black Atlantic. what’s your sugar? what’s your sugar? what’s your sugar? like a mantra or the inscription on a tombstone at the grave of our very first first, the day you and I met, the day we said it’s you and me, babe, you and me taking on the world. closeness turned to invasion, every time I read your numbers an intimate intrusion like reading your diary. and you wanted me out. I don’t want to read your diary, babe. I just want you to stay alive.
do you not hope anymore? are you disappointed, disillusioned, do you think your mama didn’t deliver when she promised to get you everything you needed? like happiness, like safety, like shelter from pain, gifts I had no right to promise, because those were the things I couldn’t do for you. since when did I become old and tired and…obsolete? since when did I embody everything you wanted to run from?
the worry and desperation, fighting the wrong enemy, bodies lay strewn, fallen limbs at the base of the olive tree. how empty and lifeless that battlefield must be if a single smile from you can make every bone, every muscle, every ache and pain in my weary, worried body liquefy, to seep into the parched, cracked earth, a perfect letting go. how a smile from you can push, in an instant, a single tear from my blood-shot eyes, the purest form of gratitude, a thank you thank you, for that sign that love still exists, that this atlas can put the world down for just a few minutes. a white flag in the form of blossoms drifting to land on the faces of the fallen. you don’t know how much you are holding up until you can put it all down. babies die when they aren’t touched or loved. and so do mothers. my arms pump hoping to be gathered up, and I try not to cry before the door opens. sometimes I ask, how can you forget, how can you forget when those moments, those eternal moments, are all that I remember?
yet I am still here, could do all of those clichés for you: move a mountain, reach the stars. I could lift a car and throw it into the street if you were underneath. I call to you, cheer from the sidelines, an epic fight within the psyche, simultaneously hollowed yet rooted in stillness, waiting, watching you look around, because I know that it is your turn if you will take it. a postcard I bought from Africa, one copy for each of you, brilliant blue with three children in a single boat, brown arms up up up raising their catch to the sky. I left you once, but that was so I could go out and bring you back the wonders of the world, I left you once so you could learn how to fish
we’ve met Hades and sailed the hateful River Styx and tasted woe drinking at the river of Acheron. we dove deep into Cocytus laments and the fiery Phlegethon. We even dipped into the Lethe, but never did forget.
we’ve seen the other side of nice
we’ve gotten to the place where everything is broken
we’ve finished the book and are writing the sequel
one touch, and I am healed. one smile from you can mend a fractured heart.
i fed you olives from my only uncracked plate, my heart walking around outside of me. my dear, you will not always like it, but your soul chose me for a mother, and you and me, we are both good.
for a few minutes, I dismiss you as I write because your interest in talking to me will pass, and so will these words unless I catch them slippery as a fish in the sea, because maybe then we’ll be able to see it, a spreading stain seeping through the paper, raw, wrapped up like the day’s catch
my girl, lay down your arms so you can see that mine are open
wade in because it‘s warm inside, and there is room for both of us.
navigate with the stars, they will always lead you home.
The river is flowing, flowing and growing, the river is flowing, down to the sea. Mother, carry me, your child I will always be. Mother, carry me, down to the sea.
you, to be your own fierce woman self does not depend on my death nor the death of us. my daughter, we will find ourselves and each other, again and again, although this sea is swift and unfeeling. I am a lighthouse, and the rocks that threaten your return already in your pocket… now you, you go, in that strong wooden boat that your mama built from the fallen limbs just for this occasion. cast far, sink deep, and bring me back the wonders of the world.