WRITING THE BABY'S NAME
--Muncie, Indiana, 1954
Over and over, I penned birth announcements,
first, middle, last. As if shaping the final two syllables
made the baby his child. I sipped black coffee at my task.
Named, first and middle, for my mother. The woman
I despised. And end-linked was the word
that didn’t belong. My husband held her in his beefy
red hands, teased the bottle’s nipple to her lips.
Dressed in a dirty T-shirt, he arrived at the hospital
straight from the greenhouse. He brought a potted mum,
lavender spikes bristled their way into the world. A pretty nurse
displayed the hospital newborn photo. Face textured shut,
one arm raised, already a fist. My husband’s last name
in dark letters at the head of the tiny bed. Same word
banded around her left ankle, braceleted my wrist.
We never discussed the man whose semen accidently
made her. The man who visited from out of town, the one
I wooed into bed, my husband and his wife out of the way.
We drank our way through a pitcher of martinis. I pulled him
to my single bed and we collided, breathless, oh yes, some kind
of refuge from life’s dull redundancies. Maybe I even
liked him those afternoons when we grabbed what we wanted.
Never a thought of pregnancy. How to explain
to my husband when he hadn’t touched me in months?
I merely told him: baby is on the way. At last.
And he never asked. And I never said a word. In the hospital,
we could’ve been any new family at rest.
Vases of flowers and cards: Finally and Who does she
look like? Right away I noticed and dismissed
her round face and body, translucent skin. Forever now
drama about her accidental daddy. The man she never knew.
He and his wife sent a blanket, impractical fluffy white.
The baby wallowed in it all the way home. I didn’t speak.
She was a seven pound weight, dull memories I carried
in my sour arms. Who did I think I was? Someone
who suffered the body, squandered crumbs? My child now,
but not from the usual tangle of kisses and bone. Wrong last name
supplied to the unappealing infant. Uneasy deception
the result, who knew, of bodies briefly engaged in a romp.
Nothing more. Then an infant, all wrong, though I hardly cared.
How I wrote and wrote her lovely name, something she would own.
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