Malaya will be one year old on the 22nd. I am going to try to write a poem every year to commemorate his birthday. As it occurred to me that he may one day want to hear about the circumstances surrounding his birth, I decided that his first year poem could serve as an archive of memory and impression as much as a commemoration.
You were born in starlight, stardust
congealed, comingled with blood,
under the harsh, cold fluorescent
glare of breath, suffocating for air.
It was the shortest night of the year.
Your heart began to falter in the warm
red canal, so we nodded our assent and you
were cut from the belly of mystery.
First light had not yet grazed the east
when you were lifted, barrel-chested,
from your ancient, ancestral pond into
cold, thin, arid space. Your round
orbs hid behind frail pink lids, squeezed
so tight your nascent dreams moved
etched against them. And your face,
it was wrinkled with screams,
yet no sound passed your uncut gums.
A latexed finger reached in, swiped
meconium from behind tiny tonsils, and then
you rattled a brief, panicked wheeze.
The dimmest of stars fell back into night,
the space between ever so slightly
lightened. An amber tube snaked down
past those tonsils and pulled up thick
green fluid, and when it finally returned
you struggled with all your might
to slake some unbearable thirst for meaning—
A quavering cry spilled from your lips.
The faintest whisper of halo gathered
along the rim of eastern hills. Thick silver
scissors appeared in my hand as pale
white gloves held you still. A voice
broke through my wonder, “You cut, Dad.
You cut the cord.” I trembled—dizzy—
starting to comprehend your fear, but I
couldn’t say, “No.” The now of this
moment already began to phase into then.
Stainless steel bit down on that organic
corridor you followed from far-away realms
of dream into being, cutting you free.
You were cleansed, briskly, like an old doll,
swaddled in bright white towels, then
passed into my uncertain arms. Warmth
of your newness pierced through me.
From the hills the halo gathered strength
and began to lift—More stars drifted back
behind its veil. In my arms you drifted back
to sleep, exhausted by the large ordeal
of becoming. A wooden bassinet wheeled
out before me, transparent walls rising
from sturdy, light-grained panels. I balked,
unsure how to lay such perfect frailty
safely down. Slender hands, showing
signs of age, grace and motherhood
reached out to guide, half lifting from my
arms your towel cocoon. Tiny round
nostrils peered out from the layered folds,
drawing silence from well-trained chaos,
exhaling stillness as I wheeled you along,
trailing behind a periwinkle gown down
sterile corridors through a series of wide,
magnetically sealed doors to a room
where tiny round nostrils peered out from
staggered rows of white, cotton cocoons.
A pale, pale blue began to follow the halo
upward as more stars returned to dream.
You were cold, I was told, and so your
wrappings were opened and your ribs
exposed to a deep, amber herald of the sun.
This awakened you, and for a moment
you explored motion in this strange new
atmosphere with tightly curled fists.
Then again you slept, afloat on darkness
beneath clear light—a solitary leaf curled
perfectly still on the dark mirror depths
of a pond. I watched you in your infinite
quietude, hardly drawing breath for fear
of disturbing those waters. After a time
you woke, or perhaps dreamed, and you
stretched out a nearly translucent palm.
With the last knuckle of my finger I touched
the inside as lightly as first twilight winds
touch high summer glades. And, perhaps
in reflex, your fingers closed around it.
The blue deepened, now only a few stars
left peering through thin archipelagos
of cloud. I froze in contemplation, studying
every detail of your glowing, coral pink
digits. Studying, until my arm grew tired
and trembled, stiff and numb—Until I could
no longer sense your grip through the pins
and needles that gripped my limb.
Then you let go, grabbed your folded
thumb, and were still again. I leaned back,
lightly rocking the light tan chair reserved
for new fathers to fill each exhausted
moment with new life. A fresh pair of eyes
periodically floated by to check your core
temperature. I floated in and out of dream
until you were lifted from the warmer
and returned to your light-grained bassinet.
News came that the seat of mystery
had been resealed, and its bearer now
recovered, resting. Time had come now
for you to know her warmth, smell her sweat,
and taste the nourishment of perfect
comfort. I watched your face, still squeezed
shut, as we wheeled down stark,
sanitized corridors to where she lay—half
sleeping—covered to her neck by brown,
raveled blankets. The heavy frame rose, half
lifting her petite frame to receive you.
Her gown was opened, the last two stars
of night inversed on the sepia mirror of her
chest. You were placed in the sky below them,
and, drawn to yellow light from those dark
stars, you latched on and drank deep of life
-giving rays. Tall cottonwoods, ornamental
maples and broad, flat rooftops emerged
from halflight into color. As you finished
the first meal, western peaks gave praise
to the sun. You slept, rising and falling
on the breath of that flawless sky. And she too
slept, exhausted by the long ordeal
of bearing a son. Shadows pulled back across
the valley floor, light creeping into every
crack and crevice, sifting down through leaves
and window blinds, settling silently across
your round rosy cheeks. Though my own eyes
wearied, I stood watch, only closing my lids
enough to wet the hot, dry sting as morning
rose like a blossom, and all things were new.