by Taylor Lewis Guthrie Hartman
folding paradise by Mirjana Miric
I am all of five, laid out on my grandparent’s back stoop in the midday midwestern midsummer sun. This stoop was never not in the light by day or by night, fully exposed to the alley and the empty swing set. And yet, I doubt anyone knew where I was; it was my secret spot in plain sight. The hour was windless – hot, stale, dully undulating with a need for something to stir. My eyelids shut, freckles covering every visible inch of me like chocolate sprinkles on my creamy skin. A push-pop melts in my right hand, my left rests upon the concave of my belly. In and out, in and out I breathe, each time feeling the weight of my spine align with the concrete step below me. My knees, too, they kiss the warm hiss of the surface as my non-hips hips unhinge. I think, “This is what grown-ups call relaxing.” I think, “This is what grown-ups tell me I should do more.”
Maybe it was the turnt push-pop or I was adjacent to calm for the first time in my young existence. Maybe it was the concrete beneath my behind but here is what happens next – no lie. My eyes still closed, dark cherry sugar melting down my paw, my whole body lifts itself from the step. I’m talking I levitated in the summer of 1987. The wind holds me in its bow – no breeze but breath all the same. It lasts as long and as short as a few billows and soon, the concrete slides under my body once again. So solid the step, there is no way I could not know it’s assurance under me; so sure the force of the current, there is only one way I knew it was solid: I didn’t fall.
I didn’t fall. Light as a feather lifted from the stiff board of the stoop, someone picked me up. Someone held me. Someone whispered into the now sunburnt tip of my tiny ear: “Baby, you are safe now and always.” And then, sat me back down brand new, fully exposed, bathed in glorious light, and breathing in and out a hymn of peace.
I am all of 32, laid out on a gurney rushing toward a cold operating room – lights never off, never not blinding. The hour was who knows, for every hour beeped the arhythmic beat of contractions, sharpening for something – someone – to stir to this side of my womb. All secrecy stripped as warm, cherry-drenched blood melts down both legs, my hips nearly broken from labor. I feel haints of it – my knees scratch the hospital sheets, my arms tremor from meds coursing through my veins. “In and out, in and out,” the doulas, nurses, doctors keep saying as if my whole life I hadn’t breathed on my own. I think, “This is what mothers call sacrifice.” I think, “This is what I do not want to do any more.”
Maybe it was the drugs (delicious kisses after the slap of back breaking pain) or maybe it was that I was adjacent to surrender for the first time in my whole existence. Maybe it was the gurney bulleting through to a solution, to a finality but here is what happens next – no lie. The newly-scrubbed-in anesthesiologist – running yet whispering yet at my ear smelling like shea butter – promises, “You are safe now. Your baby and you are safe now.” At his word, the swirl of someone’s assurance surrounds me and I levitated once again in the winter of 2014. The love holds me in its bow – no wind but breath all the same. It hems me in behind and before, above and below, every inch of me covered in bright undulating light that pulses the truth I’d forgotten from 1987: “You didn’t fall. You won’t, for I have fallen for you.”
As breezeless – did anyone else see this? – as it started, it ended. Brought back to the hardened assurance of the table, the doors of the OR open and too, my convex belly. The little secret spot my love and I made together breaks free and screams at the full set of doctors declaring his arrival. My baby has come at last – brand new, bathed in glorious light, and breathing in and out a hymn of peace that now – no lie – maybe we both can sing.
Taylor Lewis Guthrie Hartman is a published poet and pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) serving in south Georgia. Trained at Harvard Divinity School and in Creative Writing and Public Theology at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Taylor is published in The Presbyterian Outlook and Presbyterians Today and is a frequent speaker at Montreat Conference Center.
Mirjana M. are a digital artist and writer from Belgrade, Serbia. Their work focuses on exploring the juxtaposition of various elements through mixed media of photography, double exposure, textures and light. Their work most often explores concepts of duality and has appeared in “Gulf Stream Literary”, “The Good Life Review”, “waxing & waning” magazines and other places. You can see more of their work at their blog olorielmoonshadow.wordpress.com, https://ello.co/oloriel, get in touch on Twitter (@selena_oloriel).