Fountains

Who’s always nuzzling, always guzzling,
lowering the nose and mouth into folds
of clothing or skin in search of something
warm and delicious? Tonight I see a photograph
of a woman suckling her infant at one breast;

at the other, an orphaned fawn. The woman’s
destitute, though not emaciated. The edge
of her red sari is smudged with grime; her nose
ring’s a wire bangle sharpening her features.
But the caption says she cannot refuse: noble

motherhood makes it impossible to refuse
such hungers. There is no hurry to wean.
So then I learn of fountains all over the world
that celebrate lactating motherhood, portraying
goddesses of one sort or another, lifting

and pointing their many-petaled breasts
into the sun, all of them squirting white
streams of water: Artemis’ fountain at Villa
D’Este in Rome, Our Lady of Perpetual Lactation
in Guatemala. What do the tourists think

as they open their mouths wide, their faces
drenched in the spray? As a new mother reading
Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care from cover
to cover, I remember a section describing
the child’s first discovery of the world

through her mouth— nipple, finger, chew
toy; blanket, spoon, then sliver of apple
in whose belly the fragment of a star
is sown. At my children’s christening
party, their grandfather hurried

to tear the tongue off the roasted pig
and bring it to their lips. Instinctively
they closed upon the bit of charred
muscle and sucked, crying for the milk
that would not come. Good, good,

he crowed, They’ll learn to speak up
for what they want!
I wonder if the same
was done for me; though I don’t wonder now
at how strong the instinct (I want it too)
to fold myself into my mother’s neck—

 

In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Series Navigation← Listening to Chopin’s Prelude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15Dear solitude, →

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