To my son, the boy you are, the him in you.

I hope you always reach for your father’s hands. They were molded so that you would one day place your putty palms into his larger ones, that you would never feel shame in squeezing tight. He has trained years for you. Do not be afraid to hold on for as long as you need.

You will grace the earth of my life like a summer storm no one knew how to prepare for. You and your wild-eyed mischief, I can already imagine your muddy footprints trailing the hardwood hallways of our little home. I can already see myself scooping you up, arms full of giggling magic, sitting your still-small body in the bathtub, letting you make me a bubble bath crown fit for a queen. Here, Mama, this one’s for you. You’ll place it on my head, careful and precise, as to not ruin it.

Carter Andrew, it is my hope that this is how you will always treat a woman.

When you first bring a girl home for dinner I will weep. Not out of sadness or anger that you have grown up before my eyes, but out of fear.

I know how these things go, sweet boy. I, too, have been the beautiful wreck of anxiety standing in the doorframe, not knowing whether to kick off my shoes or leave them on. I have been the tangle of nerves, the thing later violated, the woman stripped of a childhood. I have lived a life like hers, so I know.

But one look at you and it will all disappear. I can already feel the fear dissolving. Because you have trained years for this. You’ve grown into your father’s gentleness, into his ways of taking care, of squeezing tight. You’ve grown into something good, someone who stands tall with shoulders back and arms sturdy enough to catch her when she falls. You won’t let her hit the ground.

And maybe I’d have known it all along, years before, the night you crowned me with bubbles and your laughter splashed from the tub and onto the floor. The careful way you did it. You couldn’t have harmed a soap bubble if you wanted to.

Carter Andrew, whatever we name you when you first cry– and we promise to always let you cry into our shoulders when you need to– I trust you with my life already.

I trust you with the first girl and the last girl and every animal and place and heart you touch. I trust you without ever having met you because you will be a product of love, real love, that holds without leaving a mark. You will be loved before you ever experience love. You will be made of it, inside and out.

We have trained years for you, love of my life, for how sweetly you’ll storm this world.

To my daughter, the girl you are, the me in you.

Before you are born I will name you beautiful. You’ll be baptized an Ava or a Willow or whatever name fits best in my mouth when I first feel your gentle kick in the womb, when I sense your soon-to-be laughter bubbling inside my skin. My body is a temple, the world has always told me, and you, girlchild, are holy tabernacle. I will safeguard you as something sacred.

Daughter, I haven’t seen your eyes yet, nor will I for years to come, but I just know they’ll be bright. You’ll get the fire from me and the depth from your father, whomever he may be. I’ll teach you how to look without burning, how to gaze without turning everything to ash. Master this, and you will learn to use your light for nothing other than gentle warmth. This will be your greatest gift, sweet girl, the intensity in your softness.

It won’t always be easy. You’re my brain’s next branch, after all. You’re the extension of a soul that has only halfway healed. There will be times you shake. I will root you back to earth. There will be nights without sleep. In the morning I will let you dream through the afternoon.

I can’t promise perfection. I can’t even promise that you’ll always love me, when I fail, when I become the name you curse under your breath, when I hold you too tightly for too long and you gasp and flinch for freedom.

Ava Isabelle, Willow Grace, someone not yet known yet already the most important love of my life, to the girl you will be regardless of what name we give you, I promise you one thing.

You will know love. You’ll learn to recognize it before you can even speak. You will know a love that cannot be argued, that knows no shortcuts, no alternatives, the same kind of love that carried you here.

Before you are born I will name you beautiful.

And for the rest of your life, I will fight to make sure anyone who dares to say your name calls you by your first.

Beautiful. Nothing less and always mine.

I want to write a poem every day

but I can’t promise they’ll be any good.
I’m just here for the process of purging
and rising and fusing together the magic
of what happens in-between midnights,
what sorts of magic we make in the
cramped corners of our individual worlds.
Maybe I’ll write about the potential
of an empty park bench in October,
the one adorned with dandelion yellow
leaves, not yet crisp, just fallen.
Maybe I’ll write about the act
of not sitting there, of choosing
to keep walking despite my backache,
to keep the potential alive, to give
the bench another life, not my own.
I wonder who will sit there,
if he’ll write poetry, something good
or not good at all, about the girl
who passes, unaware of him
or perhaps already capturing the art
of how he moves his pen.

LOVES OF MY LIFE

why must we limit ourselves to one? / love, that is / why must we singularize? / put up the white picket fence, darling / label it forever / marry it / must we always / reduce, confine, unionize? / whatever happened to freedom? / free love? / for i find myself always ending / beginning / and ending again / in these synapses of time / in the morning i fall in love with rain / by afternoon i have forgotten the downpour / and the sun woos me once more / after that i belong to the moon / only the moon / stop speaking in metaphors! / why must i / always relate love to these forces of nature? / why must i categorize it? / why must i call it beautiful? / does love ever get tired of beautiful, do you think? / the matter of fact is that i cannot stop falling / and rising in love / cannot stop my soul from bending / to meet everything that stands on its tiptoes to kiss it / some days i fall in love with the piano / i’ve never learned how to play / i don’t have that kind of mind / but my ear could listen to her keys forever / gentle fingers / you know how to tangle me too well / why must i have one? / love, that is / and isn’t, all at once / why can’t i hold multiple in my palm? / loves of my life / little breathing creatures / the things that stitch me together / unravel my yarn heart / hold me in their breath / you / him / her / me / that / there / then / i love it all / twister of tongues / so why / can’t i marry the world?

SONG OF SOLOMON AND OF MYSELF

What is the proper way to say
Don’t wait for me, for I have found
the one whom my soul loves?
What is the proper way to pledge
allegiance to a new nation, to emigrate
from the history of self, seeking asylum
from the body you once called home?
What is the proper way to beg God
for new skin? For a waist you never traced,
for bones you never bit? Jesus, teach me
how to bleed in reverse, watch the red
pour back into my side, the art
of never being crucified. What is the proper
way to love? Must it always equate
with sacrifice? Is there a way to say hold me
without anticipating the wound, to say take
me without feeling the lance go in,
and out, and in again?

Don’t wait for me, for
I have found the one whom my soul loves.
Teach me love that leaves without a stain.

WHEN I WAS 19

I left my dorm in knee-deep snow before anyone else woke up. Dug my body into the cold, no destination in mind, just a girl buried in the stillness of morning.

WHEN I WAS 19

I burned bright red in arms that held me tight. If you were to ask him what it felt like to clutch such a fiery frame, he would have said “An experience, for sure, but she hurts.”

WHEN I WAS 19

God, I was all about the experience.

WHEN I WAS 19

I was 19 and nothing more. 19 and everything bold about being awake before everyone else. I was wandering and kissing and breaking and dreaming and fantasizing and planning and shuttling and doing nothing at all.

WHEN I WAS 19

That was my favorite part. Figuring out how to play with all of that nothingness, that snowy field, those vacant arms, so much everything in nothing. So much me in you.