Latest diary entry before I give my first son to the light:
Seen from the balcony,
he was running in a green tracksuit
but he was not a runner
yet we must include him with all runners of all time
he was running for the sake of something else
Diary entries from Spring to the Summer of 2019:
juice runs from an apple
milk from a nipple
the lymph of my mothers
trees always were mammal
Day and Night lose their lordship. We sleep and wake at will, if at all.
first weeks of parenthood
passing a baton
and I am all of the runners
My son’s grandparents come to Turin from North Canterbury for a month of bliss
At a crowded pharmacy in a foreign land, my mother cares for me by lifting from the shelves a tub of Napisan and a tube of Sensodyne. My father, himself a retired pharmacist, gestures to the sodio percarbonato on the right. “It’s cheaper,” he says. “Much cheaper?” asks Mum to remind us we’re talking about the Known and the Unknown. My spouse points out a toothpaste on the left. “That’s my one,” he says surprised, pleased. “We’ll get Sensodyne,” Mum says quietly, vigilant for her daughter with a scarlet abscess in a far-flung somewhere. I accept and thank her as she queues and I slip away to take a call with the paediatrician. Such and such an antibiotic will not harm our two-month, frog-bellied son.
Given what we know, respectively, we are each so clever and so wise. How to alleviate suffering? How to procure medicaments, as Spouse calls them? We each have our way. Upon the birth of our son, Torch, we unchained a small patrimony to the pharmacies for a wet birth cord and ointment for the stitches in my opening. It was before these things had come right. We were cooperative because it was the best we could give; we were mothers.
things take on angelic dimensions
Torch’s grandparents have returned home and his father is on the road with contract work
Having a baby is like having a disability; and disability is a language. There are speakers who understand each other.
People offer to help; at my best I accept it. We live on the first floor in an apartment without a lift. After a tally of refusal and distorted courtesy, I do it. I hesitate, then say, “Yes!” In doing so, I meet the sari-wearing cousin of my Nigerian-Italian neighbour. She learns how the pram assembles and helps me out into the rainstorm I need.
Later at home, my son is waking and thrashing like a fish. I parcel him into my arms and unlatch my bra. A flake of wax in the bowl of his ear. His ever-flexed foot butts against the jade plastic of my chair. When he is not drinking, when he is making snow angels on the bed, he looks at me with that coy smile, like a bribe or an old man having me in on a lewd joke. He’s cute! The smile comes and goes.
Raindrops split open on the rail between street and bar. My son wrenches at the drill of an ambulance. An ambulance— on one side disaster, on the other knowledge and resources and compassion.
The cinnamon on the breadboard this morning struck me as a funny thing, wood powder on wood.
Torch is a warm caber on my shoulder. A lump sum. A tidal wave that hasn’t receded. A hot toastie. His wee tongue, squishy cheeks, he’s a pouch of potpourri banging his head against the brick wall of my shoulder. Panting with his life force.
My son rests in a sling on my trunk, his tiny arm on the armrest of my arm till he’s asleep and I take away my arm. Unconscious, his fingers trickle down my inner forearm, his rubbery miniature toes magnify, he is the honey bear and he is the honey. Kitten scratches.
We catch the trains and visit Spouse, this time on the coast of Tuscany
When Spouse leaves the hotel for work, I bring up a photo of us on my phone: on the shore at close of day, the dunes and ribbed sand, his hand cupped under the rump of our newborn, holding him barely aloft to keep the sand at bay, his other hand bulldozers sand over those two brioche feet.
(Writing this, I have my face inches from the page and I remember my father asking after my short-sightedness. That’s not it, I can see clearly from any length of my arm, it’s that I go into my writing. The consumption is physical, psychosomatic.)
I end my photo-gazing with my thumb on the border of my phone and turn it face down on the table. What will Torch grow up thinking of it? This oversized playing card with its robotic, off-centre eye, held over my face when I’m smiling or reversed in the dark, shining out the light of video calls with Nana and Poppa. It’s a portal, an alarm clock, Mummy’s maps and the French phrases she repeats while I’m at my milk. Her enclosure arm under me, “qu’est-quel tu fais dans la vie” overhead.
How vocational. I’m either with the child I love in the world or about to have him delivered to me asleep with his chin soft, his brow smooth or tender, shy in the corner of his father’s neck. Outside, the Italian flag twice and the European flag. Inside, no flags yet. A white-faced seagull will do for a dove.
Were Pandora a solo parent:
Unwrapping the cheese may wake my son. If my son wakes I won’t have time to eat the cheese.
Back home alone in Turin. This morning Torch and I unmask for each other; sun filters through the shutter, suspended in the netting and flickering on the covers. I take off my distraction and my son peels away from his sleep. Underneath? The perfect moment, two beings on the island of a Friday morning.
We catch a bus to the riverside and, en route, stop into a bar for the clatter of saucers. The newborn hiccups and bubbles in his nappy. I whisper to this little wobbling man. He’s wheeling his arm, holding a fat index ahead of his other fingers, slipping the warm channel of his tongue under my finger. I whisper to him my freedom and a secret, bliss is the domain of the waylaid, the detained. He has wide eyes, clean pyjamas and a taste for his whole left fist. He looks up as though he’s heard a rabbiter shoot or a rabbit give itself away, but where is it? He listens, then rolls his tongue along the rifle of my finger, speaking aguur.
He keeps looking over his shoulder at the barista of his dreams. He doesn’t know coy yet, he just knows wonder and hiccups but not blame. This is perfect innocence.
Women writing at tables. I love the look of that.
Young people writing at tables.
Old men writing in public.
All of these consenting to something squirming to the surface. The folly and the flavour. Salient and savour. Everyone writes for different reasons. I write in order to see more clearly. A swallow plunges from a domestic pine, geraniums curl in their sockets; to make writing of value, one doesn’t have to be utterly free. My husband and son cuddle in bed and I’ve gone out for the overcast morning air I need. Fat boys with fat backpacks, skinny boys with empty backpacks.
We have a son who works his lips in his sleep, has a hill of a chest and beefy feet, spider bites along the right of his face, and kissing is drinking milk, perhaps.
It is a cooler summer morning in Turin, one Friday. Alongside the Po River, the upset are being comforted, a baby is playing the lyre of his mother’s fingers and from the mouths of iconic bull fountains, water gushes over grills in the paving stones. A child on a balance bike swings his legs like a grandfather clock. Everyone turns to look at my baby, as though he were forty hectares of peonies.
When I was a baby I’d laze in my mother’s arms. We’d go to the benches by the river at the intersection so my mother could watch the traffic and write, and I would bang my knees and her tummy with the back of my hand. I’d tell her ooh, aah, eer, djoe and eurg, cough, as the buses went by. She’d fasten her arm around me and glance up only when attractive women would pass, dressed all in black but with pollen yellow socks or forwarding a bicycle. She would put her face on my head all the time. Ooae! I’d yell, holding my hands just so. And maaedle bla! She’d unfold me across her knees, get me comfy and then hold my foot out of the way so she could continue to write. 'Tall grass, not yet gone to seed, swept free of rubbish.' She’d stroke my back. I wore flannel till the sun came out. I’d face both ways like a pendulum. Passers-by would get their children to notice me, I was the missing jigsaw piece.
Torch hadn’t bought a towel with him when I had him bare for a feed this morning. That shit goes everywhere. In stages I strip the bed I clean myself I clean Torch I strip the pillows. This is a load in itself.
An actor in a gleaming white shirt, sleeves at half-mast, is sauntering somewhat woodenly into and out of antique shops, passing his hand over table tops like they were nephews, not looking them in the eye. He’s tailed by a dynamic man with a camera. This one carries his camera from two handlebars, he carries it low for an angle of prestige, he is soft in the knees, he eases and he’s his own slack. I didn’t expect to see an actor in the street. Yesterday tears, today vision.
A heavy pastry is under an enchantment on my chest. He breathes warmly up my neck; he reapplies a sticky warm cheek against me. Forcing up a shutter, a man opens a café and brings out a nylon broom, pulling away in the steps and under his play-red chairs and cast iron lion’s-foot tables.
Soon, at one of his tables sit three friends. One of whom reads a newspaper; he reads it low so another of the friends can gift her glances to him as she likes. I fail observation and catch her eye and she turns into an aniseed pink smile. I have this grace margin of a newborn under my chin. Torch’s lips are plump and pout, his nose a small hood, enough to hook the light, his bonny feet jerk at glitches in a long dream.
In front of one antique shop, the theme from Amélie jumps into the morning like cymbals, played more plucky-marching band than dreamlike, a skinny guy in a purple polo standing over the off-key piano. Two dogs shout like sharks in the street and my son wrenches, then chews on his spittle and slowly fans open his eyes. As a chair foot screeches, he unsticks his face to twist side to side, snuffling. I unbuckle his carrier and twist him free, a loosed cork. Someone starts up with Für Elise and I hear a school hall, a town hall and coiled steels. Nearly all Torch’s hair has worn away apart from the nape and the crown. He slimes along my index, he’s an accordion, a whole boy stabilised between my heart and my one large palm. Eeh, he whispers, twitching his toes at the flex. His crown smells of toasted fabric. He coughs, upset. I take a bench and wave him into the grove of my breast and he latches on, madly clever, and, after a moment, smug. He glugs like a toad and pulls at the flesh, my two soft anemones. He rocks his foot over the arm of the chair. His wide eyes look through under my armpit to the light.
I was wet nursed by a Friesian till I was in my late teens. It’s in this way that I recognize my own teats to be slack purses.
Sunday afternoon jazz in an old-time bar, here the wine is behind chicken wire. Torch will have genres of music he will love someday, even particular songs! I buzz on that idea of, like bacteria on an agar plate, a musical sensibility growing, appreciation growing. I'm not simply growing a boy; I'm growing a palate. I'm growing a powerhouse of gratitude! And of pleasure, of the propensity to enjoy many-coloured life, all textured, all flavoured, all different life.
Soft baby legs riding on rough adult legs, simmering in the indoor heat, the taste of shade, subtle but a favourite. Thirdly, what I'm growing here is not a passive joy box, but one with agency who can participate, transform situations, slap his chubby palm on the table, on his ruddy knees, curling his toes in the freshness of the moment, batting on Mummy's pages, dancing with his spittle and the lady voice singing out of the amplifier in his grand-mère's language. I'm raising The Need for Parties, for feste.
In place of a year of wine—yes I miss it—I have his whorl of foamy hair under my palm and the yeast smell of newborn bread in this bar, and his little singlet which buttons along his flank. I have a mousetrap pressure on the beef of my hand, I have three little coughs like a bird trap, I have a suction to pulp my hand. No chianti. No merlot. But I am a ship, not a barrel and I have a new port.
my son sucking his fist, it irritates me
pointless as sport
I hold his other hand through my irritation
leave him be
his feet dicing the air
his plush, tapered fingers
his agitated limbs
kids, they are squeaky with life
fuzz halos in the twilight
grizzling their chalk into the pavers
holding their fist-sized chalk
cuddling on a shoulder
a bucket for a purse
jumping with life
crying with life
chasing in circles
Is a photo of gold more valuable than a photo of steel? Can there be a worthless photo of gold?
This morning I fall asleep with my son asleep in my arms. In the animal kingdom, this is a recognised behaviour. I will have perhaps four arms-free windows in the day and I am passing up on one of them, going over my head in the water, so to speak, and with money in my pockets that would be wet and in all my clothes with nothing to dry me on the riverside. Here is my baby, baby monkey still thin-pressed against the world’s membrane, trapping air in his tiny mouth and soft and creamy like a pot of ointment, a very important person cradled in my arms, and I do not spread him on the bed beside me to free up my liberty in these rare if regular cases of naps. I drop my heavy head back, this newborn nebula and his birther, easy furniture of the body. My limits of time are tight enough, I’ll call in the theoretical physicists, we’ll force the lock. I blow the day’s stocks and here is Torch, safe and sleeping. We are outside of manufacture, we come into our animal kingdom. I’m a flat-breasted gorilla, my son in my long arm.
Eventually waking, he makes fatty smiles and huffs the air, clawing on my watch. I am tied to this scene.
I celebrate the busker who does a one-armed cartwheel and takes off his specs to do a shallow flip at the traffic lights, he is using his gifts.
Torch is now seven litres of milk on my chest. I saw the milk thinner than saltwater spray-fine, aerosol, when I stimulated the jet into his sticky eye as remedy. Not the hose but the hole in the hose. It smears on his cheek, droplets here and here.
I'm thankful for shade, for the clink of dishes in the street, for the great trees of Turin, for how a thin line of steel can provide rest, so little required to prop up the whole adult human body, a portable old chair, just two surfaces to interrupt gravity and a criss-cross for height. Furniture, so excellent when we need it. Walking with a newborn strapped to me, I build up my appetite for furniture.
We're in the heart of the summer, the air circulates through the chair, I can hook my thumb on the seat as though the weight of my hand were a coat to hang. My posture is not premeditated. Think of the ways we play with the surfaces around us, mostly under us, to rest our muscles. To rest. I myself am furniture for my son and his marsupial sling is too. I caress his foot in my pocket. Actually, I am mistaken. I caress the leather of my wallet.
No leather products died of old age, I only realised the other day.
Ghosts rise from leather goods shop windows. A simple chair, what a clever lot we are!
The queen's diamonds are laid out on my bed as I walk past.
That's what I see when I see my son. Of course, he is better still. Have you seen that rump? The whole of him featherweight, peachy, dormant and at peace.
He yells like a Tasmanian devil.
He's not old enough to make bad decisions
and yet I already have to
leave him cry
for his peace, and it comes, five minutes, it comes.
The whole house blooms with silence,
the traffic outside, its sounds dangle in the heat.
My chair creaks as I lean back like a man
clearing his throat who doesn't mean to say a thing.
Above the kitchen sink a mounted photograph of my two nanas, a pinch of gypsophila beside and balanced on the shelf, two almonds for them, offerings to the gods or the mice.
One morning I notice my apartment is stale, it smells of urine and onions. I open the windows for a draught. My nude milk son, looking over his shoulder to me, wees wherever I leave him. A white bunched towel on the rose pink couch.
We go outside to peg a third spoiled towel over the balcony and it’s that fresh air which tells me to leave my clay cup of coffee undrunk on the bench and take my son walking while the air is yet cool. Fresh air is like that, it doesn't say a thing. It's me who calls our nest stuffy. We warmed the air with our love and milk wees, rolling over our shoulders on damp towels on the stripped bed. Light catching in the curtains glitters on my son, we rollick. We've rented thirty metres to home our own mythology but primarily for rollicking at dawn.
I contend a hard cut of parmesan with a knife, for a slice. It bucks and I trim my thumb. A stretchy Band-Aid, that later foul thing, at first a guardian. Wanted and lovely. Authentic.
This morning I had found him in the cherub posture, his chin embedded in his two forearms. I'd woken up with him on asleep on my chest, weightlifted open my eyes on such a pretty scene.
The wind chimes of his laugh.
Storm sky this morning and yet all sun everywhere. For this, we’re in the shade, as we intend to be all summer long.
The dormant volcano erupts in its carrier, steaming and gasping and stretching. The scarf covering the mountain slides away and the grip smudges between the forehead of the volcano and my collarbone. Steam and gas and a bewildered cry from the volcano. Rabbit-fine hair, heavy plumb line hands, one final bang against my collar and he subsides against the padded bands of his carrier, one perfect ear exposed. I am a vulture looking down on him, twisting my scrawny neck, waiting for the last squirms of disturbed sleep, waiting for the tone of a fly, parched and sticky blood irritable, crazed, just waiting to swoop on that perfect ear. To devour my son or to protect him: the two grand groans of motherhood. The vulture descending on her prey smells pastries and, just grazing, finds her beak to be lips and the charge is lost, he is again a calf in the kelp, my precious bundle, a silky self strapped to me, brain and heart still growing, his chin tacking like a sewing machine even in his sleep.
The cherry tree on the street corner flickers, the one which Spouse shook and which showered us in blossoms when Torch was yet travelling in placenta. He kicked like a horse even then. He adheres to me, one wet leaf of paper against another. He is irresistible. He’s not costume jewellery but the real thing, weighted. Last night he was unsettled so he slept with me.
Often in the day I’ll come out of whatever trance of distraction, writing mostly, and a lump comes in my throat, incredulous at this fabulous cargo. He’s compressed, he’s electric! Pigeons retain something of dinosaur, not that I was there. They hurry. My son pops his saliva, he’s exasperated. I free him up and he yawns, his arms are custard! He looks around without noticing me.
In the early 20th century, jazz was inventing so much all at once. It created a party environment in which it made sense, could thrive, could come into being. It made its own personal space. It sanctioned nonsense. These guys were cool.
a pigeon compresses the grass in his morning tasks
My cousin sends a short film to my phone and I hold it up to my ear, cradling a tit sucker, joggling the filth out of scarf and carrier as they fall to the ground one by one.
At a stand of old trees called Parco Michelotti, I lean back and look up, seeing the canopy like Torch sees it from his pram. The canopy is dancing. I stare. I see there’s nothing wrong with bringing him up in a city. All the damage, angst, brands and endeavours only come up about hip height. Up there are many foregrounds of branches, brighter and more birdful as they go, ginkos fluttering up top, scratchy crows meowing. This is a quaint park, hydrangeas in a rodeo pen, empty pools, dust basins.
swallows squeak to each other and flither their wings dark glinting fast unbound purring wings charging the air peeping, scooping, hooning
day moths backs to the light veering
a man closes a paper in a newspaper crossing the square
a pigeon is heavy yet mobile
Now we are at my sister-in-law’s apartment. Torch wakes in his cries and I put my face near to his, to soften his waking. I try to roll him toward me, he is big and growling with lost. I drag him onto my lap, I lift him onto my front, explaining to him he is in Turin, we are at his aunty and uncle’s place. He is teething on his confusion, crying through clenched gums. I unzip my dress and unhook my bra and he closes his eyes, puts a hand between the wings of my bra and goes about his grazing, an unhurried cow, a scuba diver with respiratory logging. He’s tip-top, top-notch.
he is dicey about it today
he takes, he breaks
I like his suck, it’s luck
eyes on cruise
or fierce and snatching
he grips our cover cloth
bees action rich lavender blooms
on long poles
a hard, furry bloom
my baby’s head drops open
warm droplets of milk on my forearm
his mouth wide and forgotten
his eye slit glaze lazy
everything is open because he has closed
I’m under the impression that in the animal kingdom, the mothers go about their days as ever and their young hang on for dear life. I think this while looking into the common courtyard at our apartment, swaying an alert baby on my hip. He’s in a good mood here. Crying himself to sleep on our bed, he wouldn’t be. I have many other things to do. Here, the air is cool. Here is the mamma gorilla occupied with all the affection and grooming she pleases. His eyes are luminous and he is all innocence. Little blondie, pitter-patter, fine, dry and fizzing of eye.
Piazza Madama Cristina, morning market. A blunt, bulky fishmonger jams festive lemons over his stock on polystyrene and ice. He looks through his prices like tarot, like junk mail. Top heavy, massive chap—even that kind of strength is marvellous. Man who has made a tool of himself, I’ve heard that used in a derogatory sense, but I think it’s bright, lived, dynamic. Head shaved and dark lashes, golden neck chain, blue apron.
Yesterday, before I’d finished wondering whether I should cut my hair, it was hanging like rabbit cull and in choplets chippity chop on the draining surface beside the sink. That’s how it goes with me. Once every few years this surge and the action is completed before the pros and cons arrive to debate. Pregnancy was not like this. Neither surge nor debate. Besides, fertility’s not always there in a jar like scissors. It does its plummy sweep of the ballroom before arriving. It knows its effect on people, it’s a grand display.
wrapped in each other
Torch yawns with his mouth closed, squeezing his fist, his arm wrapped around me.