*Images: “Effigy” series, Denise Falcone
Artress Bethany White
Almost a Mother
The sight of a postpartum belly
recalls the missing folds
of loose flesh between her own hips
declaring she’d never
given birth, but was once
almost a mother.
It is the heart that contracts
in these moments
instead of the womb,
a matter of choice
to say goodbye to cells named zygote
only a vague memory
of what could be spied under a microscope
on a slide, some two-dimensional curiosity
or just limited knowledge
gained in a lab
smelling of dissection
and a teenage boy’s bad breath
as he eyed her cleavage
and she pretended not to see.
Now that was sexual differentiation
surely not what lay in her womb
a few weeks,
these cells that did not cry out
to be fed
nor grasp with insistence
at an index finger,
or resemble a family member
whose name they would never carry.
It should not be a matter of endogamy,
letting race determine your mate for life.
As girls we ponder the shade of his eyes,
shape of a nose, sculpted majesty of a dome
believing that genetic preference
leads to matrimonial bliss.
It is not, however, the iridescence of an iris
that reaches around to hold your sweating body
in the midst of fever
forsaking its own health for yours.
Nor will the Roman nose you search for
ensure night after night of senseless lovemaking
sprinkled with wild abandon chased by
I don’t care who hears us.
It is something much more delicious
than the texture of his hair
that will make you peep breathlessly
around the bathroom doorway
just to catch a glimpse of his naked buttocks
as he undresses for the night
and you tiptoe soundlessly away.
Hugh Hefner’s Castoff
Idly sifting through
cardboard boxed detritus
of suburban living,
craving anything that might amuse
or titillate until we found you:
photo of a bare-breasted woman
in pink underpants
passed reverently between
four pairs of hands
agreeing it had been taken
with the family Polaroid,
the half-inch border of white
perfect for recording dates and places
sadly clear of any cataloging data.
Discarded memento, never meant
for the family photo album,
but there you were
on paisley satin
without your glasses,
That is not me
as we stared knowingly
at each other
not buying the lie, Mom,
because we’d recognize you anywhere.
your hair will govern your life
is what I think
but do not say
like integration spelled
the end of black hair secrets
way before Chris Rock
and the film Good Hair
spilled the dirt,
yet pondering what you will say
when classmates ask
How does your hair do that?
and hoping for something
It is an act of God,
or Genetic sleight of hand,
or You would have to walk a mile
in these hairpins
Like an empty zoo cage
no future, no past, no signage
detailing how all was lost,
you singled out for extinction
over that one there
her worry-free street strut
intact ova ready to roll
on the drop of a sperm.
Reach in and shake that fallopian tree
catching eggs like gold from heaven,
solicit ripeness like a john, no jane,
jerry-rig what He didn’t get right
and bloom like all women
rich or poor with birthrights.