Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Dear Em

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Dear Em,

I could call you Emmett or Emily, but technically you're just a flutter, a whisper beneath the radar. It will be a while before I know what inevitable path your androgens or estrogens have sent you down, whether basketball practice or shopping for shoes will be your priority. And then it still won't matter, will it?
You're my seedling, the beloved, miraculous little weed I prayed for all my life. You make me soil, mama earth, and I want you to take root. I fear you leaking, hot scarlet between my legs, when I am taking notes during a meeting, or when I'm nauseated, trying to creep up the stairs out of the subway.

Let's make a deal, Em. You hang around in there until it's safe for you to come out, and I will do my best to make it safe for you to come out. I will pack away my fear along with my size ten everything. You will inherit Daddy's smarts and deadpan commentary on the state of the nation, along with my excellent health and flair with a pen. Okay, you might also get a taste for heroin or develop a need for lithium, but we will do our best to make sure you prefer flowers, or moonrises, or the Three Stooges.

See, Em, my mother was afraid of most things: afraid of leaving the front door, or of losing her soul behind it. Like her, I became terrified of taste and touch, of sunlight on my skin, or January cold setting into my bones. It took me years to climb down from my leaning tower of neuroses.

I want you to live, Em, but also to breathe. To find your own way to freedom, however you define it. I will help all I can, and hopefully I'll know when to get out of your way.

You are my miracle, my fervid wish made flesh. Daddy and I had given up hope. You weren't going to happen without hormone injections, or donor eggs and swimmers in a $100,000 Petri dish not covered by insurance. I wasn't sure if that journey was worth it.

Daddy and I took another journey to forget about it for a while, to be something other than people who did not have you. We took a plane across the country, and then another plane across an ocean. An ocean I swam in once, as a girl.

We reached the Big Island that keeps making more of itself from fires in the heart of the sea. A goddess named Pele lives there in a volcano called Kilauea. Pele makes earth into liquid fire, and sends it surging up from mountains that surf and crash on tectonic plates in the deepest dark of the Pacific. Pele makes fires that burn through the earth, then flow in molten, ruby rivers back to the ocean.

Armed with walking sticks, sunhats, and plenty of water, just like the safety video at the ranger station said we should be, Daddy and I set out near sunset. We walked the lava, black and blazing in the sun, with the blue-green hope of the sea shimmering in the distance. The lava was smooth and rippling, or creviced and crackling like glass under our feet. Sometimes the lava was too hot to walk on, with rivers burning beneath, and sulfur venting on the surface.

After a few miles, I couldn't keep up. I made Daddy stop and sit. I explained that he needed to go more slowly. Daddy got annoyed and said his feet hurt when he walked too slowly. I said that it wasn't my fault that Daddy forgot his boots and had to hike in cheap-ass sneakers from the Wal-Mart on Kauai. I was embarrassed because I was crying when a bunch of German teenagers sat down near us, but after that Daddy made sure to go a little slower, and I tried to go a little faster.

So ember, embryo, my little spark, Daddy and I kept trekking over the black hillocks strewn with boulders, an ebony lunarscape under blue sky bleached almost white by the unrelenting sun. We could see steam rising off the sea in the distance, clouds roiling and flecked with shooting stars. Finally, we reached the shore where the rivers of fire returned to the ocean. We sat for a while on the black rock being ground to crystal by our boots and butts.

The lava flared, exploding with molten rocks, as it hissed into the sea. Sometimes the fire burned so fiercely, the ocean boiled so ferociously, that everything was eclipsed by scalding clouds.

After a while, Daddy wanted to get closer to the fire and hiked toward the rivers burning down the mountainside. I crouched alone, on the obsidian, transfixed.

I will admit this to you now, Em: I may embarrass you when you're a teenager because I have a tendency to literally stop and smell the flowers. I am intoxicated by lilacs, and the sight of a deer can bring tears to my eyes. Although I hide it from fellow New Yorkers, with their suspicion of anything that smells even faintly of god, your Mommy is, at heart, a moon-worshiping, wind-dancing, god-or goddess-loving pagan. I don't chant and shimmy around bonfires at midnight deep in the woods with other naked witches anymore, but I do believe in the many faces of divinity, especially when I see them.

That day, as the sun's blaze faded and the volcano's fire made the blackening ocean seethe, I hoped that Daddy wouldn't get lost trying to find his river of fire and have to be rescued by helicopter. Then suddenly I began to feel it, the land creating itself, a new continent being born over millennia from the center if the Earth. I felt like I was seeing the fire in the heart of stars, the god-heat that makes the galaxies spin and the universe expand.

I prayed to Pele then. Maker of these fire rivers, Mother of these islands, alone in the center of the widest and deepest of the world's vast oceans, Pele, if it pleases you, give us a child. Grant me a spark for my womb and heal our weary hearts.

And, I swear, Em, you were conceived the very next day. A month later the doctor said it was your little yolk, the darker bubble in the haze of the sonogram. I could see your little heart beating in the darkness, my little ember, coming into being.


Jeanette Barszewski has been using motherhood as her latest excuse for not writing. She has an M.F.A. in Poetry from Brooklyn College and during the 90’s, published poems in magazines such as The Portable Lower East Side, OutWeek and The Spoon River Anthology. She started writing prose with the support of workshops given by The New York Writers Coalition. She hates living in Middle Village, Queens, but loves her husband, Ted, and two-year-old daughter, Annalise, very much so will put up with it for now because the rent is very cheap.


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