Alabama. 1984. Mami is very pregnant.
Open your eyes and breathe life into your belly still swollen
with pain pills from the night before.
Papi is working the night shift as a guard on base
and his gaze is on the moonlight hovering over
Mami’s room in the barracks across the street.
She came with him “por si acaso.”
Gaze at the moonlight. Let the covers hover over
your bare shoulders, curl up to the warmness of you,
hum a birdsong quiet as dawn, and linger
there a little bit longer “just in case.”
Mami groans. A contraction.
She calls Papi but his name staccatos
on the way out of her mouth. “Ben-ja-min!” She hums.
Another contraction. It lingers. She hums. It lingers.
The contractions make her sing. Papi is nowhere to be found.
The lingering hum.
Sing into the spine of your body
and wait until the alarm chimes.
Your arthritic bones bend, snap and staccato—
the melody of the broken queuing up as you reach
out and turn it off. Curse the chronic pain.
Rub the aching still. Forgive yourself.
And will your limbs to hang idly.
A weeping willow tree.
Mami’s voice crescendos. My two-year-old brother,
Ben, wakes up weeping—his own willow tree.
Mami moans. Rubs the pain to a stillness.
Ben weeps some more. Papi sits by, idly, too far away to hear.
Mami becomes weary.
Become weary. Understand what it means to swell like water
Rise out of bed anyway, groan with heavy fingers and wake
your eyes free from the dirt of night. Smell the morning heat
and speak into the silence of you. Let your feet float
like mist off the side of the bed. Hollowed and wasted.
Give your brutal body a chance. It’s time.
Mami’s melodies break the silence
down the hall, echoing a call
that prompts the staff supervisor to come to her aide.
In English that cuts like grass, like an out of tune guitar,
Mami explains to the white woman:
“Baby! Es coming! Baby! ¡Estoy teniendo un bebe!”
“Baby,” he says, “Are you alright?” Lie.
Nod. Contemplate life, if only briefly. Breathe.
It’s coming, the pain that chokes you. Breathe.
This can’t last forever. Breathe.
Cradle yourself and breathe.
Think: you don’t have time to turn it all around today.
Work’s waiting your arrival.
I’m soon to arrive. Mami is in labor.
“Breathe,” the woman tells her.
Mami knows this can’t last forever. So she
breathes. The woman leaves to get Papi.
Mami swallows the pain and waddles
to the other side of the room, hands steady on the red brick wall,
and her water breaks like a river falling out of heaven,
as natural as heavy dew.
At daybreak, forgive the body that betrays you.
Rush to the bathroom and let a warm river fall. Breathe.
A sigh of relief. A sign of life. Hold your heavy hands steady.
Open a window and let the scent of jasmines smother you back to life.
The woman and Papi return.
Mami breathes a sigh of relief.
Their white and black and white and brown and black hands
smother themselves around Mami’s waist
to help her into the car. She breathes.
Two hours later, a sign of life emerges, they will name me Jasminne.
Now. It’s time.
Make a grand entrance into the world.