Like no Cassatt or Morisot I’ve ever seen
(and what were those placid babies on anyway?
Did they suck in absinthe through their mothers’ milk?)—
this canvas I view through visited windows:
A mother paces the alley behind her house,
and in a football-hold carries her infant girl,
the baby’s angry head pointing
from her mother’s elbow like a bullet
swaddled in tight fleece casing. As they march
the crunching gravel path the baby’s screams
bounce off the sides of houses
into kitchens where neighbors
who’ve heard it and heard it for weeks
no longer rush to their windows.
Then finally—soothed by fall winds whirling
over a scalp red as her birthstone, now calming
to rosy pink—she defends her tiny eyes from the sun,
she closes them, and surrenders. She hushes.
I wonder if this peace could be achieved
by calmer means, more like those stoned
moms and babies in the paintings.
What wisdom do I have to offer this exhausted mother?
She knows how qualified I am: the one
who raised her child’s father—putting him to sleep
face-down (to prevent a sudden death that we now know
my method could have caused),
coercing him to nap in a backseat cardboard box
as I cruised the highways. His unrestrained brother
once shook the box, sending the baby
sliding out and under the front seat,
to lie wedged, screaming, until the next exit.
Somehow, that baby survived my feckless ignorance
and sired this marvel of a girl, inheritor of his Olympian lungs,
the one to whom I surrender and hush.