Her small, sweaty hand grips mine
despite sleep’s silvery fog
looming fractions of an inch above her forehead.
She will not lose track of me, so help her.
She has a stubborn spirit,
and she fights for what she wants
with all the air in her lungs.
When I shift,
her lips suck more insistently on my breast.
She could hold up life itself with that latch.
There are several moments of quiet while I strain to hold
Her tongue slackens.
She sucks more thoughtlessly
and slips slowly into dreams.
With her eyes closed and her belly
moving up and down steadily,
her face is all cheeks and eyelashes,
When I finally ease myself away from her—
in the slowest possible increments—
air runs across my sweaty side,
her usual place.
I am simultaneously empty
much like when she was finally out of my body after 40 weeks,
her writhing arms and legs moving in their own space,
my body my own again.
I could fly, maybe, for being so light.
But all the while, I feel vaguely like I’m mourning some loss.
She is caught in the steady procession
that will turn me from a young woman
to an old one,
that will stretch her dimpled legs into long, strong things
Which will run around the world, carry her
through other lives where I am peripheral,
lives I can only guess at,
unreal worlds that keep me awake,
imagining and feeling lonely.
Her sister, hair in ponytail, riding her bike down the road with fairy wings on,
a foam sword across her lap,
is years ahead of her,
already carrying out the heartbreaking game of growing.
She uses words like “curiosity” and “startled”
and asks questions I cannot answer.
She dances all day, not knowing she is slowly dancing away.
Someday we will tell them a fairy tale.
You were babies once.
You ate potato bugs when we weren’t looking,
and threw important things into the toilet.
You wanted to be held all the time. (Can you imagine holding twenty pounds in your arms every second of the day and trying to carry on as before?)
You fell asleep in your highchair with spaghetti smeared across your face.
Your sleep breath smelled like wilted roses.
You were children once.
You believed in unicorns and mermaids,
and you lost your breath when you saw your first pink sky.
You married Daddy 16 different times in elaborate living-room weddings.
You made mud soup in the backyard.
You whispered secrets in our ears.
You slept with us every single night—
all four of us crammed into a queen bed, limbs sprawled across each other,
kicking each other’s bellies, pulling off each other’s blankets,
You occupied every minute, every thought of our days.
You required everything all at once, and we had only two hands and one brain and two eyes and six hours of sleep in our bodies.
You made us feel like we would break open at the seams sometimes because of the love we had for you.
Someday these stories will unfold out of our mouths like brightly colored pop-up pages,
and our girls will be amused for a while,
smile at the unlikely tales,
then look away and think of other things,
put their heads on their pillows at night and be
carried off in the current that will slowly swallow them whole.
Amanda Kettenring lives in Utah with her best friend and their three blue-eyed, pigtailed tyrants (oops, children). When she’s not busy holding a baby on one hip, calming a tantruming toddler, and telling her seven-year-old how to spell “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (all at the same time, of course), she teaches an English grammar class at Salt Lake Community College. She loves books, jumping on the trampoline, watching Spoken Word poetry performances on YouTube, being outside for any reason, and in general keeping her soul aloft.