When we get to Andromeda, Cal,
you’ll have the babyhood you deserved,
all the groping at light sockets
and putting sand in your mouth
and learning to say Mama and I want
and sprinting down the yard
as if to show me how you were leaving
me for the newest outpost of Cal.
You’ll get the chance to walk
without pain, as if such a thing
were a matter of choosing a song
over a book, of napping at noon
instead of fighting it. You’ll have
the chance to fight every nap,
every grown-up decision that bugs
you, and it will be a fair fight, this time,
Cal, in Andromeda. You will win.
In Andromeda there would be no
sleepy midwife who doesn’t know
her own weakness, no attending
nurse who defers like a serf
to the sleepy midwife, no absent
obstetrician, no fetal heart monitor
broken and ignored, no sloppy
hospital where everyone checks
their own boxes and only consults
the check marks when making
decisions that will hurt us, Cal.
None of those individual segments
will be there in Andromeda,
no segments to constitute the worm
that burrowed into our bodies
and almost killed us. The worm
that is supposed to return us back
to Earth is supposed to come after
we die, not when we are giving birth
and being born. But even in the Milky
Way, we did manage to get you born;
and I will never forget the spark,
the ping of mind, the sudden gift
from nowhere that told me what I had
to do to push you out. I had
no force left in me but a voice
in my head, “Love. Love!” A command.
The kind of love we cannot understand,
so concentrated that had it been made
of blood it would be compressed
into a pure black diamond
as large as a galaxy and as heavy
as a crushed star.
The eye would explode from looking at it.
The mouth would attach itself
like a leech and fall off, dead.
LOVE. Over and over that voice told me
what to think and do and what to use
and finally, it worked.
It cracked me open with the muscle
of a Roman god’s shattering
fist and it was the god of war or the sea
called in for the emergency, on alien
wires by some Andromedan operator.
This is how you were born.
You were hardly alive, hardly you,
horribly slim-chanced. I blacked out
hard but I heard you were blue.
That voice that told me what to do
came from Andromeda. It’s the only truth.
There wasn’t a soul in that hospital
room told me a single thing anywhere
near as true. It was Andromedan
love that delivered you.
Wait till you see the doctors in Andromeda,
Cal. Yes, the doctors. It’s not the afterlife,
after all, but a different life.
The doctors are whole-organism empaths,
a little like Troi on The Next Generation
but with gifts in all areas of the sensate self.
Not just mental or emotional empathy
but physiological. The doctors know how
you feel. They put their hands on you
and their own spleen aches, or their spirit
is tired, tendon bruised, breast malignanced,
et cetera. The patient’s ills course
through the doctor’s body as information,
reliable at last. There are no misdiagnoses
or cursory dismissals as if the patient
were a whiny dog who demands another
biscuit. Or shooting in the dark like good
Dr. Shtep in the NICU, when you were
trying to begin living, who asked me
whether I had taken street drugs. What else
could explain your catastrophic entrance
into the human fold of the Milky Way
but the gross ignorance and disregard
of me, not her colleagues? Not even a god
we’d never share. The doctors there
are more like angels are supposed to be,
when they breathe you can sleep peacefully.
You might be surprised to hear that illness
occurs on Andromeda. That the field
of medicine is still a necessary patch of land.
Did you think I was telling you a fairy tale,
Cal? Trying to get some religious parables
into your already impassioned childhood
and indoctrinate you toward the obligations
of heaven? I am not. People still get sick
in Andromeda, and woe and death
and grief arrive each day like packets
of mail through a slot in the door.
How could it be otherwise? It is life,
after all. And despite what the religious
on Earth try to prove, no one can choose
life. We can only choose choices.
People get sick in Andromeda.
The difference is that people taking
care of the sick don’t pretend
they know what they do not
and cannot know. In Andromeda,
everybody knows what they
need to know. Even doctors,
even patients. Even, yes, insurance
companies that don’t even use
the word “claim,” certainly not in the form
of a form, in their business,
because it’s just rude and heartless
to hurt further a hurt person by making
them shout in the wind, wondering
whether their pain will be approved, deemed
real, awarded validation in the form
of not bankrupting the sufferer instantly
with avalanching bills. They know that there.
We don’t even need to pack our bags,
Cal. I can’t be sure but how much
you want to bet they have better bags, too?
You’ll learn to read so much more easily there,
Cal! You’ll be able to see the letters
better in that atmosphere.
Maybe their alphabet has twenty-six, or maybe
thousands like Chinese characters.
It won’t matter because your vision
will delineate even the finest fifteen-stroke
pictogram and you will laugh and laugh
at how the letter O looks like an open mouth
in your old language. How childish that will
seem! Your beautiful eyes may change color
with all the perfect seeing you do.
Maybe we’ll miss the aqua ring around
sandy-colored irises flecked with gray and green,
little tropical islands studded
with prehistoric boulders and effusive flora,
encircled by rich, bright ocean.
Perhaps the new air in Andromeda will turn
them into brown and gray buildings,
a city in which to flick on all the lights
in a skyscraper so you can read
so far into the night I call from the next room:
“That’s enough, Cal. The book will still
be there tomorrow. Time for sleep.”
And yes, Cal, you can roll your eyes at me,
your frumpy old mom with her wacky
idea. I do believe in Andromeda.
You don’t have to. I’ll believe hard enough
Because it’s all my fault, you see.
I’m the one who joined that cult
who felt ourselves too delicate
and optimistic to entertain the notion,
as if I were inviting it to an unpleasant
afternoon tea, of something going wrong
with the birth of my child. Like so many
others, I thought it wouldn’t happen
to me. In a way, it didn’t happen to me.
It happened to you. And because
I wouldn’t invite the terrible guests
into my psyche for goddamned tea,
I wasn’t careful enough. I thought
my experience of childbirth
was a consideration. I thought
I was playing it safe by having the Best
Midwife, one who truly understood
the beauty and horror of childbirth
and who would take my side
in the ordeal (I didn’t know that meant
she’d take my side against you!)
and who would be like a sister
to me, an expert sister and nurse and doctor
and goddess of natal wisdom
all in one, with the extra precaution
of planning to deliver in a hospital,
in case the tea-guests arrived
without invitation. I thought the hospital
was a real hospital, too. That it knew
what it was doing and had a legal
and moral obligation to know
what it was doing. I thought that
since I was so healthy, and you were
growing you beautifully, and all the tests
and charts and balances were perfect,
that I was doing everything right.
I was arrogant. I was selfish. I wanted
to do it all correctly as if I were building
a model birdhouse at summer camp.
I was wrong. I was wrong to see the other
new mothers sighing over their sore
perinea and healthy infants
and believe that I would be like them.
Since when have I ever believed I was like
anyone else? Only when it served me,
Cal. I can blame just about anyone for what
happened to you, but ultimately it was my job
to get you into this world safely. And I failed.
There is no other way to look at it.
The other day I was walking down Court Street
in my neighborhood and saw a mother,
her child in a stroller. We were all stopped at
the same corner, waiting for the light
to change, to cross the street.
The mother was craning her neck to the left
to watch for cars, her stroller pushed out
so far ahead of her it was already
in the street, ready to go, when an unseen car
zipped fast past us, dangerously close
to her child, and the first thing the mother did
was turn to me and say, panicked,
“Did you see that? He didn’t even have the light!”
But I couldn’t feel any sympathy for her.
In fact, I recoiled from her safe and lucky outrage.
It’s not the driver’s fucking job to ensure
her child grows up safely. She could be right
and the driver wrong and her kid dead.
Two out of three is what happened instead.
She should hold him a little tighter
than usual and not waste this lesson
on being angry at a car. But I said nothing,
and, disgusted, wasted my own anger on her.
I suppose I could blame God. That’s what cowards
do, the lazy. Like people who pretend to be
so abysmally unskilled at cooking
that someone else feeds them throughout life.
Those people are always the pickiest eaters,
But let’s say I won’t eat potato or dairy and I can’t
tolerate onion, eggs or wheat,
what exactly would I be blaming God for?
A mistake, misjudgment, an oversight (a word
that has always amused me, its simultaneously
opposite meanings) or utter cruelty?
Weakness? Naptime? Drunk driving?
Vengefulness? Power-madness? Experimenting
with karma, playing with matches,
autopilot? Stupidity, quotas, just taking
orders? Mixing up the card files Comedy
and Tragedy? An inept assistant who
has since been fired? Poor people-skills?
Forgetfulness? Had a headache?
A cover-up? Setting things in motion so that
this poem would be written? Overworked,
underpaid? The system being broken?
Technical difficulties? Couldn’t find remote?
Track-work, electrical storm, hurricane,
prayer-lines jammed by the devout,
new policies, change of direction within
the administration? On vacation, paternity
leave, sick leave, personal day, long-term
disability, short-term disability, layoffs?
Who am I to underestimate God in this way?
To imply he’s some bumbling Joe,
working stiff trying to do an honest day’s work?
I mean really. Who knows his workings?
If I don’t know what to blame him for,
how can I blame him at all?
Perhaps there was never a flaw in the first place,
no mistakes. Perhaps God is perfect,
utterly blameless. He is what he is. Evil.
The gods of Andromeda, however benevolent,
cannot answer unless called.
They don’t operate like Milky Way God,
who doesn’t answer at all,
who is always busy offline, jetskiing
on our waterbodies, our handsqueezed
oceans of salt water, competing in dressage
though he always spooks the horses.
In those days when I would call and call
into the stupid air, if I ate something
sweet I would begin to cry, overwhelmed
by how small comfort had become.
So you see, Cal, we’re not in particularly
good hands here. Not mine, helpless
and late, not even yours,
tiny, graceful stations the train lines
keep skipping though we’ve all
been waiting in the rain.
We will find our kind in Andromeda,
we will become our true selves.
never hurt you, and you will have your
childhood back in full blossom,
whole hog. We might not know
who we are at first, there, without
our terrible pain. But no flower
The sea can never find the forest,
though it can see the trees.
The succulent has no bud for salt
but one mile away the deer lick
were in its newborn body,
replenishing the kelp of the hoof.
Though a sea would as soon
drown a deer as regenerate it,
there’s a patch of mercy, sweetly
The new wind is already in us, older sister
to us all, blowing windfall and garbage
alike to those who do not deserve
And then of course, there were the friends.
It’s amazing how the ones without children
leapt to their feet in anguish
and keened, utterly genuine and broken,
made their way to our apartment with stews
and wine and tears, fruit and olive oil
and kindness so beautiful it wasn’t of this world.
While our own families, our parents,
seemed so stunned (as if by a stun gun)
by their own fear that they receded
into an ether, the veiled planet Venus
for all I understood, some bright
occasional visitation and months
of silence. And, oh, the friends with precious
children. The ones who withheld,
thin-lipped. The most articulate,
sensitive souls suddenly bumbled,
tongue-tied, unable to say anything at all
but the weakest thing, the things that
actually made everything worse.
We’re so scared for you. We’re so sad for you.
As if our new child had died. I remembered
so vividly the ecstatic leaps of joy
I’d made without condition,
when their children were born. I knew
from several occasions that the most basic
thing to say was: Congratulations!
Because our beautiful baby boy
was in fact alive. I heard mostly silence
from the parents of those kids I’d celebrated.
Why on earth would it be the closest,
dearest friends to shit the most toxically
on a sad new family struggling to find
blessing where blessing were?
I wondered. It seemed to me that those
with children could ill afford
to sympathize—we were their nightmares—
how could they not be half-glad
it happened to us and not to them,
our misfortune statistically
tweaking the odds of misfortune
But the guilt of that relief
showed on their faces. A sight
Of course, our crisis doesn’t actually
mean anything for the likelihood
of others’. It’s all a trick
on the parent-heart, and we all fall for it,
how else to sleep? When I was advising
a dear student about her chances
of becoming a Rhodes scholar,
there were many grueling numbers
and pairs of numbers meant to terrify:
forty thousand applicants for twenty-four scholarships,
for example. But once she was a finalist,
I told her: your odds are now 50:50.
Not 852:1. Either you get it or you don’t.
Yes, parents. I wish that my son’s pain
meant your child would be spared,
but my son is not Christ. And I am no
damn Pietà Mary. In spite of our proximity,
your kid is just as likely to be next. 50:50.
By the way, the student didn’t end up
a Rhodes scholar, and I told her
that, for a poet, the experience
of not winning the prize was going to be
more useful than anything else
thus far. Oh, but paltry usefulness!
The uses of disappointment are shit
when you just want the big damn prize
or want your child to be able to move
his limbs and talk. Back to the friends,
though, since this is the only place
I can go back to them, it seemed
to me that those most frightened
not only for their children but about
their places in the world, they were the most
grindingly inept, the least able to drum up
compassion. Those gunning for tenure
with little achievement to support it,
stay-at-home moms who had once
been talented but were now pretending
they were not in order to “raise a family”
and to slide into inanity. I don’t know what to
make of such spiritual inertia but it seems
like the same stuff racism’s made of:
fear of difference: As long as it’s not me,
I don’t have to know anything about it.
As long as they stay the hell away from me,
it never has to be me. As long as they stay
weak enough they can believe they will never
be gutted by this particular pain. Not my
child, hurt like that. As long as they seem
incapable of handling such trauma,
God will never force them to.
Secret, smug believers! God never gives you
more than you can bear, they like to say, as if
the strong should be punished for their strength:
We can bear it. So we got it.
But what about my baby? How weak does
a newborn have to be to escape God’s burdens?
And why press down so hard on Cal when
it was I who grossly claimed superhuman strength:
I know I can deliver him, I know I can
push. I don’t care how much pain I’m in,
I can handle it! I can do it! I’m the strongest
fucking woman in the world!
When in fact, if I had let myself be weak,
a C-section would have kept Cal safe
and I’d never have seen the true spirit
of some of my once-close friends.
It’s like that old college saying:
Alcohol kills brain cells, but only the weak ones.
I’m certain that I’m merely, unadmirably,
jealous of these friends who certainly
just not the problem of an injured child,
and I have an uncomfortable,
oozing rage, as if I’d pissed myself
and had to sit in it. Rage that those
who are so fearful of my pain are the ones
who will be most spared it in their own lives.
Let them be poor, then, let them continue
their sexless marriages! Give them
a number of “scares” after which
everything will be fine. A surgery or two.
Misery. Even give them the illnesses
and deaths of their own worthless
parents. These are the mute friends
whose children will be spared.
May they suffer every other misfortune!
I probably shouldn’t be telling you
such ugly, monstrous things, Cal,
and I’m not. I’m telling the Andromedans,
to plea for a place in their galaxy.
I want to tell them I am among weak
people here, and I am strong,
and I don’t want to be strong anymore.
Let me be weak in your world,
among kind people who are not afraid.
We’ll just have to convince them
that we belong there, Cal, though I’m worried.
I’ve become bitter and angry,
not at all the kind of citizen I imagine
they’d honor with a new beginning.
But then, “beginning” begins with “beg.”
I’ve been wrong or I’ve been lying
or I’ve been ignorant. It doesn’t matter
which. But now it’s time to give it up.
You came from Andromeda, Cal,
that other galaxy. Came to me, to us,
the moment you were born,
when the membrane between
worlds snapped and all that alien love
flooded my body. It came from you.
There was awful confusion because
you didn’t seem to be of this world
didn’t know what to do. Not even me.
Mommy and her stories, those fairy
wretched and unending, children
lost in the woods. No wonder you’ve
always looked at me so quizzically,
a story like that is too tiny to contain
Andromedan you, lost in the Milky Way,
magical boy weak from his first
intergalactic journey to my arms.
I found you, didn’t I? I am here.
We found each other, we are here.
And here is where we belong, for here
is where you are you. Exactly you.
Not some other boy in some other world.
I was wrong to mourn so, he deserves
better and so forth. You are better.
Better than any lesser truth I could invent.
I opened my eyes from that long dream
to find you here, my perfect child.
You taught me the truth, Cal.
Accept the truth from whoever gives it,
the ancients said to your people.
The truth is you are the truth,
a child born to a liar who is learning
to change. A dashing boy who may never
to be here. A joyful boy who may never
talk who ruthlessly teaches
about where children really live.
Where you are alive. You are the most
perfect Calvin Makoto Teicher
of the Universe, a tough, funny
beauty of a boy who holds my hand
and blinks his eyes until I’m
excruciated, mad with love.
How hard it was for you to convince
me that I deserved that love.
My glorious son! A mother’s boast
is never merely delusion. A mother
knows, if she can forgive herself
for not knowing. I know now, Cal.
Your frail arms are perfect arms.
Your uncertain eyes, perfect eyes.
Your anguish, your illness, your pain.
Your difficulty, your discovery. Your joy
is my joy and it is a perfect, boundless joy.
God must exist, a God for me after all,
and he must be good, everlastingly so,
I don’t need any more proof than this.
You in my arms, your little searching fingers
on my face. Wistful, graceful
stars on a wet, clear night.
Galaxies exploding everywhere
around us, exploding in us,
Cal, faster than the lightest light,
so much faster than love,
and our Andromeda, that dream,
I can feel it living in us like we
are its home. Like it remembers us
Oh, maybe, Cal, we are home,
if God will let us live here,
with Andromeda inside us,
doesn’t it seem we belong?
Now and then, will you help me belong
here, in this place where you became
my child, and I your mother
out of some instant of mystery
scattered through the cosmos,
God-scooped and poured toward
our bodies. With so much love,
I cannot beat my own heart anymore.
Cal, shall we stay? Oh let’s stay.
We’ve only just arrived here,
rightly, whirling and weeping,
freely, breathing, brightly born.