Craig van Rooyen


When we squashed them in our fingers,
we didn't know their language—
the dialogue of luminescent organs,
flashing pick-up slang.
When we smeared them on our faces,
we didn't probe the mystery:
How they survived the loving season,
without burning up, victims of the heat
produced by their own light.
But really, knowledge didn't matter.
We were boys, instinct just as bright in us,
trying on faces in the dark.

They say prolactin can produce a mothering
behavior in roosters and in virgin mice.
So why, I wonder, are we sitting in an evening
class of couples learning how to nurse?
Compulsive to a fault, we sit in rows with dolls
to practice feeding holds. Real babies, we are told,  
prefer a breast presented from the right side.
Wait for bird mouth, ram the little sucker on.
Be sure to break the suction prior to removal.
Lamisil will heal most wounds.
We are allowed to fondle the equipment—bras
absorbent pads, a support cushion named "My Breast Friend."
The teacher, a certified lactation specialist, handles
her own breasts like she's a farmer—tells us we have spent
our money well.  Instinct, apparently is over-rated.
Consider, for example, the case of the mother gorilla,  
born in captivity, whose first baby starved—
we're told—because the mother never learned to nurse.
When, not yet recovered from her grief, she gave
birth again, zookeepers conceived a simple plan:
Pay human mothers to sit across the bars and
nurse their infants, demonstrate the football hold,
the finer points of latching on, attachment gazing.
As if this alone could end the dread that must have
quickened when she felt that second stirring in her womb—
realized, too late, the pattern of the world is loss.  Understood,
at last, just how strong her cage.

Craig van Rooyen has work forthcoming in The Fourth River.



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