~For Sean and Lesha
When leave is up,
I don the costume
of flight attendant
two sizes bigger,
for my body, changed
more space in the world.
I have grown used
to my face without
makeup, but peer at my pores,
changed too by lack of sleep-
the magnifying mirror distorting
further as I paint myself cordial
for the public who will enter
the small plane from Chicago
to Peoria. My daughter
sleeps, mobile lazily circling
above the snowy expanse of crib.
My own mother stands in the doorway,
wordlessly waving goodbye. Her face
says what she cannot. Don’t leave.
I do not cry. I drive and note
that autumn has eaten the world
and I do not cry. I do not think
about dropping from the sky
or how I will extend myself
to strangers, and smile, beacon of
order in a starched uniform. Vanna White
of the overhead bins and yellowed
oxygen masks. In the airport
bathroom, I pump my milk.
The machine is deluxe, both
breasts at once, the thrumming
pull, nearly sexual as they move
from stones to flesh, emptied.
Liquid gold, my husband says.
Last week, he placed his lips
around nipple and tasted
while entering me cautiously.
He was so tender, I laughed into
my pillow. All he does not
know about the universe
of my body, my brain. I pad
my nipples, in case my milk lets
down, adjust, button and right
myself. Walk with my shoulders back
and machine slung like a purse.
My work is automatic. I feared
I would forget how to be outside
my home, and joy blooms deep
in my belly. I still have this. I still
am beyond beyond beyond the bond
so powerful a kitchen match spontaneously
alights sulfur blue in my brain and I think
of running. Instead I am flying. Departing
and arriving. The flight is mostly men
in business casual, but right before the door
is latched, a wheelchair containing an elderly
woman, weeping, and holding an infant,
so newly come it looks alien. She wears
grief so fresh everyone turns from her, but
I help her, guide her to her seat. The contours of her
adult diaper are clear through the nylon of her pants.
The baby sleeps, drops suddenly into it
before takeoff, and the woman weeps
without sound. Once we hit altitude, I pass
out pretzels and water, only. And the baby wakes
and the baby squalls. My milk lets downdowndown.
Then the turbulence. The pilot speaks, and I am instructed
to sit, and as I pass, the woman holds up the baby
like a sacrifice. I can’t, she moans, I thought I could,
but I can’t. We are flying over a quilted plain where
human desire is mapped. The desire to tame, cultivate,
feed, and own. What is there to do, but take the baby?
Sit down and latch my belt. We rumble through pockets
of air that want to rattle our frail bones and ricochet
our brains in the casings of our skulls. The woman
gives voice to the grief that has wildly claimed her.
I read the terror of the passengers’ collective face
and smile placidly. I am the light house. I burn.
It’s automatic. The baby gusts so pathetically. I am
unbuttoning my shirt, unlatching my nursing bra. The veins
of my breasts are so blue they look like a tattooed map.
I feel the soft down of the baby’s hair, and below the soft
skull, still knitting, and imagine the brain beneath. There are blood vessels
there on the surface, pulsing tributaries that match the beating of its
tiny heart. I guide the mouth. Here, I murmur. Here. Here. Here.
And once the latch, and the familiar pull, I look up, as I imagine
the Madonna would. In a clear voice, a lullaby for all, I speak sing.
There now, there now, hush my loves, my lovelies, my dears.