This Child I Nursed

Sixteen summers ago, I was selling maple syrup and homemade ice cream at the little Hardwick Farmers Market. The market was so small then, sometime we had just a few vendors. One lovely Vermont July afternoon I sold a bowl of ice cream to a woman in her fifties who ate the ice cream while chatting with me. Just me and the baby had come in the old pickup, and when she began to fuss, I sat on a cooler and nursed her. The woman and I kept talking, and she finally said, I’m so glad you can do that. When I had babies, women had to hide away when we nursed.

I think back now on my scrappy self then, in cut-offs and a t-shirt faded from infinite washings, my absolutely gorgeous red-cheeked baby in my arms, so young I believed my youth would last forever, and I realize that was the first time I had seen my personal life as political.

Tonight, this girl all stretched out into her own lengthy self, dressed up in new black boots and dangling earrings she bought with baby-sitting money, drove my car to her first high school dance.

Where did all that go, I sometimes wonder, my le leche league fervor, my farmers market zest? But if anything, my energy has intensified and strengthened, as a stream running down a mountain gains force, momentum, might. The channel of my force has diverted – to writing a book, keeping a small school open, guiding my oldest toward adulthood. The shadow of that much younger woman is yet deep within me, and someday, when my girls have their own beloveds, I intend to offer my daughters a bowl of ice cream while they nurse.

the lost baby poem

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car we would have made the thin
walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers’ hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas let black men call me stranger
always for your never named sake

–– Lucille Clifton