Notes from the Birth Year: On Worlds That Leave Us

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

 

How easy to simply lift the baby into her crib, to hand her a cup. To watch her pull long sips of milk—cow’s milk—from the spout.

Watching her, I am only faintly aware of the ritual that sequestered us in a world of our own making, the circle of milk and child and mother that signaled the shift from wakefulness to sleep.

Now that she is weaned, how easy to simply live around the edges of that world. As though it never existed.

Though of course it did—and still does—shadowy edges emerging in the hush of bedtime.

Life’s most precious gifts, given with the knowledge that they will be lost.

As in the moments after I gave birth: I felt very cold and strangely alone in my own body. For the first time in almost a year, I carried not two heartbeats, but one.

How worlds create then leave us.

I am thinking of the nursery in Richmond that my family owned, roses run wild in their glass greenhouses.

The touch of Oxford in my in-laws’ English.

The weary boulevards of Vientiane. The streets of Paris.

How world-haunted we all are.

Lives that have split or diminished. The baby, now toddler, resting her head against my shoulder.

Ode or elegy? Or both? What is elegy without its more joyful counterpart? And what is an ode without longing?

The absorption of two bodies sealed in a single, fluid form—suckling, sustenance, skin.

The worlds that await. And those that never leave us.

Whose edges we merely find our way around, lives wedged in the space they leave us, gasping for breath.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Isako Isako, winner of the 2017 Alice James Award. Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including Indiana Review, The Greensboro ReviewBest New Poets, and Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

 


image: Nestor Leynes, Mag-ina sa Banig (“Mother and Child on a Sleeping Mat”), 1960