Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Shelled

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Adults play at being each other,
prepare scrupulous camouflage.
“Look! I’m wearing your face!”

But to play that sport with you,
who had tasted my anxiety,
my arousal?
Who had heard my blood’s rhythm?
Small You?

And without the games?

I didn’t know how.

I saw your separate face:
sovereign, furrowed difference.
Felt the needles of newness
that pricked you your whole one-week life.
But I was stripped. Couldn't cocoon you.

Your separateness: a tsunami.
Rage sweeping through me.
There were no masks left--
the face before me was yours.

Your otherness was opaque.
Once a fish in my belly, a giddy pet
who did laps, you now howled.

Sorrow? Loneliness?
Simple soreness?
Haze.
Why didn’t you come with a radar?

So I looked for you through a tunnel:
breast pump tubing, flimsy rolled flannel
blankie, a binkie crooked and pipe-like
in your mouth, baby books finger-shaking.
Impervious, you stared.

You wailed, I carried you, hunted
for you, three a.m., and I circled,
and you wailed, miles away from my body,
a warm paperweight, and I waited,
and you wailed, and you doubted
me, and I faked it,
sang outside, wailed inside me, outside you
wailing, we circled, we paced and waited
for each other to land,

till I walked into stupor,
you, into separate sleep.


Olga Livshin’s poetry has appeared in Jacket, The Mad Hatters’ Review, Cirque, REFLECT, and other journals. As a performer and playwright, she has worked with the Music / Words series (New York) and Out North Contemporary Art House (Anchorage, Alaska). She holds a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures and served as a professor of Russian at the University of Alaska from 2008 to 2012.


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