Poetry

Notes from the Birth Year: On Worlds That Leave Us

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

How easy to simply lift the baby into her crib, to hand her a cup. To watch her pull long sips of milk—cow’s milk—from the spout.

Watching her, I am only faintly aware of the ritual that sequestered us in a world of our own making, the circle of milk and child and mother that signaled the shift from wakefulness to sleep.

Now that she is weaned, how easy to simply live around the edges of that world. As though it never existed.

Though of course it did—and still does—shadowy edges emerging in the hush of bedtime.

Life’s most precious gifts, given with the knowledge that they will be lost.

As in the moments after I gave birth: I felt very cold and strangely alone in my own body. For the first time in almost a year, I carried not two heartbeats, but one.

How worlds create then leave us.

I am thinking of the nursery in Richmond that my family owned, roses run wild in their glass greenhouses.

The touch of Oxford in my in-laws’ English.

The weary boulevards of Vientiane. The streets of Paris.

How world-haunted we all are.

Lives that have split or diminished. The baby, now toddler, resting her head against my shoulder.

Ode or elegy? Or both? What is elegy without its more joyful counterpart? And what is an ode without longing?

The absorption of two bodies sealed in a single, fluid form—suckling, sustenance, skin.

The worlds that await. And those that never leave us.

Whose edges we merely find our way around, lives wedged in the space they leave us, gasping for breath.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Isako Isako, winner of the 2017 Alice James Award. Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including Indiana Review, The Greensboro Review, Best New Poets, and Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.
Originally published:
August 20, 2018

Featured

Conversations

Discipline and Abolish

A dialogue about writing, power, and mass incarceration
Rachel Kushner,
Caleb Smith

Essays

How to Come Back to Life

On reaching middle age and carrying on
Emily Ogden

Essays

I Killed, I Died

Banter, self-destruction, and the poetry reading
Douglas Kearney

You Might Also Like

Poetry

Notes from the Birth Year: On Weaning

Mia Ayumi Malhotra

Poetry

Notes from the Birth Year: On Mind and Memory

Mia Ayumi Malhotra,
Sarah Manguso

Pandemic Files

There’s a Sickness Outside

A doctor reflects on the dread of coronavirus
Nitin Ahuja

Subscribe

Become a subscriber to get four beautiful issues a year for just $49—and help keep print culture alive.
Subscribe