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Prairie Schooner 80.3 (2006) 130-132
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Pulse, and: Matrilineal Line
PulseOne day inside a magnet
a machine spoke to me in pulses, shifted neutrons
to make images – then I saw it –
a growth in my brain – the cross sections
of lobes like butterfly wings, or the shapes
of storm clouds over curves of land.
I wanted to touch the thin cushion
of the dura between skull and cerebrum, that moat.
And that dark mass nested
inside the pituitary,
where chemicals flash to jump-sweep
through bloodstream, tell the body how to grow,
when to go fertile, how to stop the bleeding,
when to soften the stalks of our bones.
That night, I dreamt the lamp
of the surgical table, the scalpel that cuts
the tissue away, as if to unhook a miscaught fish –
the doctor leaning over, saying
you do not have to die for this. And I waking
to this same flesh of wind and wire, this skeleton
of holes and starlight – to watch my own unpiecing,
to feel the dredge of adrenaline in the blood.
That morning the earth was violet with crocus,
snowmelt painting the valley with first green.
I watched the world pour through [End Page 130]
to shift sand, cleave bedrock, dissolve the calcified –
felt it drive into my body, break the husk
so I could remember how to bloom.
Matrilineal LineHow stories would sew us one to the other –
the shape of my body against time,
the shadow of yours, and yet we speaking
across generations, having genetic conversations –
how a cell comes to know how to grow,
or a chromosome how to color the eyes, or curl the hair.
How it is to see your own face reappear in another,
nested there like history's strange bird.
I would not know your hospital room,
or the twin engines of your beauty and disease,
but something in the breast recognizes, something calls
names across the lines of the living and dead. You
are the womb of the womb that carried my own,
and already, when my daughter was born, she carried
the eggs of my grandchildren. As if that is all that we are,
mere vessels – but no – something more, bodies
that unfold history, our blood on every doorstep.
The way you birthed my mother while sleeping, body sipping
on the heavy drip of anesthesia. The rough tongue
of the world licking you back, pushing your baby
into your arms, saying she is yours, and you saying,
This? Me? And I, who twisted and turned like a blind mole,
cord around the neck three times, the noose of my life –
the forceps tugging my tiny blue body out. Then I passed into [End Page 131]
the birthing fire with my own, wide awake – bald with pain,
the head breaking through the way the bulb pushes up soil,
that crushing before opening out into air. How tangled
these births, these rivers that run through the body over
and over until furrows form, inherited, tendencies appearing
over time like bright, errant threads. These are our stories,
clutched in the hand like wildflowers. Pick one – find
the longest stem, the deepest throat – the very ovary housing
the queen bee who will sting you again and again, her venom
paining you so deeply that it saves your life.