Drumming with her feet, tongue-in-cheek,
she sucks with a clicking sound, drinking
in air for another round of howling sobs

or sobbing howls, variations improvised.
I must have imagined the slight up-curve
of her mouth, scow of a ferry’s littlest

rocking in the great-rolling-through
of necessary adjustments.
Something hovers over her face

as if she’s recalling the long
transit in time and in space
when darkness expelled her

into the fluorescence of a single body.
(Is it the push-pull of absence then presence,
absence then presence that startles her,

exile and crossing to be forgotten,
remembered, forgotten, remembered
for the rest of her autonomic life?)

When I open the nursery door, she joins
all the babies in the world to descry
hunger and need, to shriek and arch

her back, regurgitating
our existential fury—
until she discovers the breast.



Click here to read Catherine Stearns's compositional note.

Image: Annelise, newborn baby girl by Melissa Austin, licensed under CC 2.0.

Catherine Stearns:

At some level, do we remember dwelling in another person’s body? “Newborn” was occasioned by the arrival of a grandchild, by hearing and watching that absolute eruption of nerve cells and bodily systems that dominates a baby’s being. But it’s mostly a consideration of questions about sentience and features of mind, our “push-pull” of consciousness, for example, that I’ve wondered about for many years. (Also, I still remember opening a window at sunrise soon after my first child was born to what sounded like the amalgamated howling of all the babies in the neighborhood, if not the world.)

Catherine Stearns
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