Sarah V. Schweig

Here we are in Barbados at Waves Hotel and Spa.

We are three, now, with an infant son.

Every other guest is British, burnt pink and smoking.

The literal is all that’s left.

Our son cries, and for a few long seconds

I do nothing, keep writing.

Everyone has a penchant for cruelty, given opportunity.

Between feeds, I order a “mango breeze colada.”

By the highway, men selling coconuts wield machetes.

The sunset is burnt pink and smoking.

Our son needs to go down one more time before the long sleep.

He cannot speak, but screams.

My mother always says: He is taking in everything.

Implicitly: He cannot yet accuse me of wronging him.

My husband always says I always use words like never and always.

To the sound of my son clinging to waking reality

I drink in the view and a colada. Fear and worry,

fear and worry, hardening oneself to it, no escaping.

The sky is pink and smoking. The sea glints like machetes.

Another day in paradise, says the man trying to sell bracelets.

(What he must think of us!)

Maids come imperceptibly while we’re at breakfast

and make our bed. Privilege is the dream of not having

to make one’s bed.

The water is turquoise and azure.

The scar where our son was pulled out of me screaming

is turning a shade of burnt pink, darker and darker.

The waves at Waves are shallow but the horizon immense.

Our love for our son is immense.

Then suddenly I forget his existence.

The burning sun rises behind us and over the water sets.

The waves break and break.

In the eyes of the staff, my pale son is just another guest.

They have children of their own, somewhere else. The other side of the island

perhaps. Each morning at five they wake to drive here

to sweep the sand from these decks.

The literal is all that’s left us, them, anyone.

It’s what we’ve been taught, what we’ve been told.

The scramble of headlines is the world. We come here to forget,

throw away thoughts like the Brits the butts of cigarettes.

What will the human world look like when our son is old?

How old will he be at his death? At ours?

There is no longer any moral center. Was there ever?

Like the porous rocks that keep washing up

I want to far-fling these thoughts.

Welcome to Waves, where waves break and break

and remind us of the sleep machine we brought

to soothe our infant son. We are three now.

We hope waves inside the sleep machine move him

from waking to dreaming

seamlessly. The water is gold and cyan.

We are different than we were.

Is this your first time on the island? Are you a gold star member?

The questions come ceaselessly, and we force the gracious smiles.

Is this your first time by this turquoise water?

We break like waves into laughter. Yes, this is our first child

(likely last). This time by the turquoise water will be a time to remember!

We hope it won’t be our last! We’ve been taught

to nod to one another rather than smile behind our masks.

How nice, everyone exclaims, that things return to normal!

Our son is referent-less and full of reverence.

Before he was born, I called him Dancing Star.

Now he smiles as if in answer.

Our room is ocean-front. We shut the doors and set the sleep machine

to waves. For our son reference preceded referent.

It’s knowing the world, perhaps, that ruins us.

Our son, full of reverence, takes in everything

and weeps. It will be months before he speaks,

but he makes noises in sequence.

When he’s awake I want him to sleep.

When he sleeps I miss him terribly.

My love for him is immense and contradictory.

The literal is all that’s left. He sobs until he can barely

catch his breath, then drops into a dream,

smiling. Sleep comes for him. What could he accuse me of?

I go for a Waves signature scrub. On the questionnaire of afflictions at reception

I check “inability to turn off.” The girl who works on me can’t be more than eighteen.

Her father lives in New York, too, she tells me.

Now sleep is all I think of. When it will come for him, for us.

The inability to turn off means my husband and I have words, an expression

meaning we argue in whispers until our throats are hoarse.

We are fortunate, and it is hard. Sleep and milk. Worry and fear.

It never ends, one of us always says.

Oh it will end, the other says, cryptically, as if fulfilling a pact.

Our son has no words yet.

On the walls of our room are pictures of the sea and portraits of shells.

Would I like a wellness juice? Would I like to add alcohol?

In the activity foyer, a local artist paints a portrait of a guest.

Between such commissions, he demonstrates painting

sunset after sunset.

What kind of world will his children inherit?

Will it resemble the one inherited by ours?

(Is the articulation of this question a patronizing gesture?)

I struggle to put our son down before the long sleep.

I forget his existence as I write, read.

I put my finger to my lips when my husband comes from the deck

into the room of sleep. The waves stop suddenly.

I remember the machine. I scramble to turn it on again.

We are different than we were.

Hotels no longer distribute pads of paper and pens.

No more stamps at customs. Everything wrapped in plastic wrap.

Why this impulse to poetry if I believe the literal all that’s left?

Into this new contactless world my newborn son

opens his arms wide, and I pick him up, hold him close.

On the sizzling midday deck the Brits take long drags through their cigarettes.

Heat rises off the horizon like smoke.

They flick away the butts, artifacts of breath, symbols of death.

When cocktails come cherry-less they send them back.

The waves break and roll back.

We take turns creeping to and from the room of sleep.

We are three now.

Why this impulse?

Reality is not enough. It’s as if I’m standing outside myself

watching myself play mother, every gesture tenuous.

It never ends, one always says.

It isn’t fair to quantify love, and yet

sometimes it’s as if I don’t have enough.

It’s as if there’s no such thing now as “as if,”

only the urgent and literal left, no time for hypotheses.

As I write each line I forget my sleeping son.

I am privileged to lose myself in words.

Here we are in paradise, privileged

to lose ourselves in the waves, sent back and back.

Despite the line of the imperceptibly rising horizon,

to swim we fly from sea to sea.

The sky turns violet, and the sea turns violet as if in answer.

If it’s knowledge of the world that defeats us

I have no answer. I have only this inexplicable impulse

to cling to poetry.

Perhaps poetry is just one way of processing data

among many. I turn away from my son to poetry.

I turn from my son to write about my son.

Those few long seconds I do nothing.

The inability to turn off. Now the fear and worry

pursue us everywhere. Now the water is turquoise and purple.

We are different than we were. Welcome to Waves.

Where we came so as not to break.

Where we have paid to have someone make our beds, straighten up,

sweep our thoughts away.

Where we snap and post photos instantly.

Where we sit thinking about how we cannot turn off and yet want to remember.

Where waves break and break, and I think of the sleep machine.

Where my infant son’s cries rise up and finally

snap, until he drops.

I watch real waves and wait.

Waves stop suddenly,

and the sea and sky are gray on gray on gray,

like his eyes, full of cries, full of sleep.

How corrupted I am next to him

when he wakes up laughing.

Sarah V. Schweig is the author of Take Nothing with You. She works as an editor and studies philosophy at The New School for Social Research.
Originally published:
September 18, 2023


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