“La mère,” oil on canvas, by Elizabeth Nourse, 1888.

by Jill Evans

In the cool morning, bright-hot now from his bath,
my child’s child leans into my lap,
tow-headed hair on fire in the sun.
Opening his favorite book
to my airy voice,
our joined shadows breathe
across the morning walls
in unison, a shared assumption,
like short-hand, while his puckered fingers
grow curious as they waft around my neck,
the slightest breeze along my skin.

And lost in the familiar, I forget
that I’m not his,
that my collarbone is not
a faultless brink, nor a wishbone
ushering him home. Instead
absent-minded nerve endings
in my chest twinge anew
like puberty, a tidal wave
opening from the trickle of his trust.
If only he could stretch far back
into my memories
with his steamy mouth as I drink in
the bliss.

You need to know:
I have no breasts. Twice-removed
and gone awry as distant relatives,
I hardly mourn them anymore—
like a tree that keeps on falling aimless
in the forest when there’s no one there to notice.
No need to hang around there now, except
for dislocated memories. My children
understand me well: my scar-shaped lack,
my sentimental stare,
my lingering goodbyes.
I still embrace them
the same way
with my falsies.

But as this child stands by me,
his hand a lazy doodle down my bra, how fast
a nipple haunts my chest like an impostor,
full as gratitude, unquenchable as faith.
And suddenly I miss my breast,
I miss conforming
to this boy’s nameless certainty,
miss being the same
person as my past.

And I am afraid
to let his fingers creep
more into my hollow
for fear I’ll scar
his confidence
with my crumpled scar.
So I swallow down the longing,
wince from this lovely terror,
like waking
to a sudden, fallen thud within
these enraptured woods.

omega man

Jill Evans makes documentary films, media art installations, writes poetry, and teaches about social justice from a female perspective. She is the winner of four Emmy Awards for her scripts and documentary films. Her poetry has appeared in Tipton Poetry Journal, Light—A Journal of Photography and Poetry, The London Reader, First Literary Review-East, and elsewhere.