milk gone sour (2003)

You, wild child of Avignon,
reared in love
by this lame wolf; I'd howl,
and you'd howl, mimicing
my hoarse cry without context, unsure
how to bray on your own.

I'm no good as a surrogate:
I've run without a pack for too long,
and your newborn heart
is no less deep than mine, though
infinately more cautious, more delicate, and you know it is.
You guard it even more than I do
my own battered, withered organ, where I stop up the
holes and scars and scratches with calloused fingertips,
scraps of tape and too-quick reflexes, but hold it out all the same.
You, instead, guard your fresh pink viscera, your untold history
with a silent mouth;
with secret wishes that hide in a threadbare security blanket of fear.
Wishes that manifest in hushed anger
held tight by closed hands
but seep out through the cracks of your clenched fingers.

These newly feathered babes need food
they don't know how to hunt for or gather: they look
to be fed and I don't have the heart to let them go hungry.
Yet I know I cannot fill their bellies
or sustain them by sharing the meager diet I give myself
only when my stomach rumbles too loudly.
I cannot rear them
to live with the hunger
I've convinced myself I enjoy, knowing better, knowing,
but not confessing, that
the edge it gives me is an armor.
I don't want to: they deserve better.

You say I treated you like a child.
I say I didn't know how not to, and
it's what I first loved in you, and you know that --
your infant wonder, your fresh born joy,
my being first to hold your heart, and maybe,
my being first to scrape it.
I'd be a liar if I didn't say I ate from it gladly and greedily,
feeding it right back to you after I chewed it up
with my own mouth first.

It's no wonder your stomach felt empty.

We'd grow to resent one another because we couldn't break
our fosterling bond;
it would anger you to be the romantic child
you are in love, but not in living,
and I'd dissapoint myself by parenting reluctantly and loving badly,
knowing I could give nothing more than less
than you needed, and more than I had.

I'd resent, you'd resent, that the mothers' milk I had to offer
had started sour and dried up swiftly.

You'd say I treated you like a child,
but still you'd cling to me as a mother, wanting more
and wanting more,
yet still accepting just the crumbs I could manage.
I'd try to set you out on your own; you'd resist.
The street was too busy to cross, the water
too rough for sailing, the weather too chilly to go out
without the coats or shoes you'd forget; and I'd remind and we'd resent.
I'd make limits I'd feel terrible for making but had to make, and
like a child, you'd test them.

Maybe I'd resent that you could resist, knowing I'd been
tossed out into it all without my bags packed, with
my legs still coltish and uncertain. Maybe I'd resent
how I had to learn to go hungry and love that ache
to keep from hating it.

Maybe I'd resent because you'd want -- but not ask for -- things
I never had the balls to want way back when in my infancy;
I'd resent the seeming luxury
you've had of time and waiting, even if it was in fear.

Or maybe I'd resent that even if I could have mothered well,
I saw from the onset that if I gave you wings
to fly with, they'd get dusty sitting in that corner with you;
that I could
help you learn to walk, but you may well never teach yourself to run.

I forgot to remember that limbs
that go without use for so long can atrophy,
and that your legs now are not less unsteady
than mine were then.

Like a parent,
I'd want a child who I thought
could do it all better than I have, not one
who I thought might risk even less, stop
walking when he was only halfway home
and hitch a ride the rest of the way.
Like most parents, I'd cringe
to see my flaws mirrored at me; magnified.
And not unlike my own mother,
I'd hammer at the walls with my fists,
saying I never agreed to this, I didn't want it,
and then taste the acrid flavor on my tongue that reminds me
I did agree, and I did want,
perhaps so much that I let myself be blind
to my limitations and patterns, to yours.

The animal shelter is overfull with discarded dogs
who were once the puppies their owners wanted.

The truth is
that I was once more the wild child than you were.
The truth is
that I was the one reared by feral wolves; you
were the one smart enough, or scared enough,
to stay in the treetops and lie in wait
until it was quiet and vacant enough to come down and you could
pick the shreds of meat off bones already mostly devoured.

I told you once how my grandfather
taught me to ride a bike by simply ripping
those little training wheels off without telling,
and pushing me down
the steepest hill in town.
I told you once
that I learned how to love by being hurt and unloved, how to live
by barely surviving much too soon,
how not to break by breaking.
The truth is
I don't know any other way to do these things.

I'd teach you to swim
by tossing you in and telling you not to drown
because I'd grow impatient
holding you up while you treaded water.

I'm angry, I'm dissapointed too: it isn't just you.
I wanted more than you could offer as much
as you wanted what I didn't have to give you.

I want to hear braying
that doesn't sound like mine. I want to
howl and make complex harmonies,
not sing in unison note for note.
I want for you to learn to fly
with wings of your own so that someday,
I can look up and aspire to be such a magnificent bird as that;
be challenged to fly higher than I have.
So that you can look down and see that
my own wings are not so strong and agile as they appear.

If I am to resent you,
I want to resent you for becoming more than I am,
and all that you can be;
for feeding on berries that I can't reach, and might never,
rather than for making do with my meager crumbs.

© 2003 Heather Corinna. All rights reserved.