You walk along the side of the road with stone-faced
determination, dusty gravel clinging to the sweat
of your calves, your arms held out and bent
at the elbow like the borrowed cradle that used
to hold your sleeping baby girl.
She’s old enough to walk, to feed and dress
herself, but you let her get too much sun, caved in
when she whined for cotton candy after the funnel cake
you shared. After all, she got gold stars for helpfulness
everyday this week and walked all the way to the street
festival singing made up songs without one break.
Even now, her logic astounds you as her limp body bears
down on your ulnas and the sun tracks its heat
across your strained shoulders. Even now, you know you’d hold her
for this long and longer like you did the time she pounded
her two-year old fists on the toy store floor when you pulled
her away from the doll she desired.
You were being a good mother, weren’t you? Teaching her
that life will not always go her way? You reasoned she needed
to learn disappointment early, but collapsed under the cacophony
of her wails. What is a mother to do—then and now—
when every whimper brings you back to your daughter
at four-months old, how her coos melted into cries that day her ears
were pierced, how you taught her what it meant to feel pain?