My Inner Outtie

She moves! 

A Galilean proclamation.

For two days I walked too fast and too much, and she moved too little. Now, as I settle on the couch into my own fetal curl, I watch her as she purrs. Gallops, really: tumbles, whorls, leaps and dives like a porpoise. Sometimes she will push outward slowly toward my fingers, with a cautious, exploratory hand—others, she’ll dance with great joy and ferocity, quakes that shake my belly like Jell-O.

I lay down my books, paper, and pen and direct a hundred senses toward this most miraculous, animalian her.

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She is, and always will be, my greatest wildness: she is leopard, dragoness, pterodactyl, sea horse and bear cub, this belly-round baby of mine, exactly twenty-nine weeks young and as yet unknown to the world outside our waters.

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The women I love have told me to talk to her, and I do: I narrate our day, sing shower songs, crack jokes and whisper “I love you.” I read to her from Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, romancing our twin intellects and trading knowledge about life under water. “Beginnings are apt to be shadowy…”

*

I am my daughter’s eyes. On the trail at the refuge, at the salt marsh in Marine Park, on Hawk Mountain, in the Ramble, at the beach: I watch for her, for us. I scan trees for migrating warblers but am distracted by babies of all kinds: squirrel kittens pouring out one, then three, then five from a canker at the base of an oak tree; a raccoon kit hugging his way up a nearby trunk. I am reminded how small a kinglet, how determined an osprey mother, how peppery the yellow-rumped warbler, how sonorous the common yellowthroat. How curious and particular each salty grain of sand.

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I’ve read that at this stage of development she can better absorb images than words, so I look around, close my eyes, and will to her a transmission of every lovely thing I see: cordgrass and cottonwood, willow branches, stalks and bells from last year’s evening primrose. Sumac drupes, hummingbirds, geese and goslings and holy flyovers.

I send her the song of the song sparrow, the smell of the salt marsh, the taste of sassafras leaves, the cool shade of this champion copper beech. I give to her the red-winged blackbird, showy as anything, flapping his wings on a branch as he trumpets his wild “conk-a-reeeeeeeee…” and because for me this will always be a farm bird, I send her a picture of the farm, in all its glory, and my grandpa’s oaken frame…and his hands.

Soon enough I will learn her hands, and suddenly I am filled with questions: will she have her father’s delicate fingers or my stumpy ones? Will she be pink like me or olivastra like him, Germanic or Mediterranean, quiet or precocious, wicked-tongued or eloquent, or both?

She will be she and I will be me, but for now we are one, nestled together like matryoshka, unified in a way that is unique to our own histories yet common as anything in the great book of the cosmos.

*

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I think of her now, in her dark and quiet waters, as I stand at my post in the herbarium of the New York Botanical Garden, hips rocked forward to cantilever the paunch of her. I slide specimen after specimen—sedges, mostly—into a light box and capture an image of each plant. The work is relaxing, not physically taxing, and the room is silent except for the shutter clicks of a small cadre of interns and volunteers. I pass centenarian plants from one folder to another, scanning their labels for botanists’ names—masculine, mostly—and collection stories, site descriptions, taxonomic identifications in English, Spanish, French.

There is no way around the colonialism of this enterprise, the violence of initial capture and prevention of heavenly decay. I feel the weight of it, even as I add to the depths of their captivity with every click of the shutter. I feel, too, the care and attention with which each botanist once pressed, assembled and glued his prize collection.

My revery breaks: white cottony seedheads float into the air above the imaging plate, freed from their glued-down stems by the fan of the light box motor. We will not be contained, they whisper, and I wonder for a moment if our baby’s hair, or her will, will be as downy, as buoyant and resilient as this.

She rolls, rumbles, announces her presence in the order of things. I caress her through my skin, this pulsing being-to-be who reminds me daily of my own creatureliness. She teaches me the simultaneity of self and not-self, as she pops out my belly button like a jewelweed seed.

For three more months, my body will be her bounds; then, God willing, just between the sturgeon moon and a solar eclipse for the ages, she’ll leap out like a grasshopper onto this trickstery stage.

And this, this I wish for her: that she will not be contained.

*

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