I did that thing you talk about – lay my naked baby
on my naked body, his ear pressed like a stethoscope
against my chest so he would hear my heart lub-dubbing
in his deep-sleeping brain.
We lived over a hairdresser’s, my son’s new-born smell
polluted by shampoo and lacquer, and from 9 to 5
piped music drifted through their ceiling, our floor,
Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, or Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.
There were still phones then in red boxes on street corners,
and when I suffered from post-natal kleptomania,
there were no CCTV cameras in our old-fashioned pharmacy
to catch me as I purloined life-sized lemons made of soap,
each with its own rope for hanging. In no time
my yellow harvest turned our windowless bathroom
into a Mediterranean courtyard, lit up for a fiesta
with sweet-smelling citrus trees. And I remember
swearing to him, this few-days-out-of-my-body baby –
already too big to believe he had ever squeezed in there –
vowing, as we lay in our skin-to-skin mantle, that no one,
nothing, would ever come between us.
We were mammals, after all, we belonged in the same
sett of mud and blood and leaves. Even the din of
rumbling traffic or drills (we were on a main arterial road)
only drove us closer into our warm milky huddle.
But when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall.
I lost him, far too young, in a custody battle. And though
I know this isn’t the same as death – he’s a grown man now,
with a child of his own – whenever I hear of a mother’s loss,
a riptide of grief maroons me once more in those nights
when I’d walk to red boxes to talk with him before he went
to bed. Someone was always laughing in the background.
Strangers would tap at the glass. I never had enough coins.