We agreed to participate in the study, took the surveys that asked how often during the past week has your baby laughed? and checked the box that said we’d send a sample of everyone’s hair, so researchers could measure cortisol, testosterone, prolactin. So they could determine: during this trial, did our hormones sync or scatter, the way evenings, we do, each swept to our corners, searching for our faces in the choked night sky? Last week the old year poured into the new one like salt. Now, days sting and brighten slowly. The sample kit collects dust on the dining table, these days our delta of pleasures and debts: bank statement, watercolors, two pocket knives with their hand- tooled sheaths. Seven months on, my hair, thin gold wire, still pulls away in fistfuls. I’ve given my daughter its cautious shine, its flat barn tones. In her father’s curls, their opulent difference, she pampers her tiny hands. During his isolation, I bent and tried to trim her right ring finger’s nail, watched the clipper’s jaws sink, too satisfied, into a layer of new skin cells. It took us both a beat to see the bleeding, as if the tide of error had to rise to meet us, though if I squinted I could see its yellow foam from some ways off. On the rug I gave her my breast because to offer my body was all the medicine I knew. For days, her hand hid in a sock like a face obscured in some autocrat’s official photo, its absence making it glow with importance. After that, how could we trust our hands again, which quavered? Or our eyes, which saw only to the end of the street, around whose corner a man was surely turning, carrying what we dreaded? We placed our only faith in the uncut scroll of her cells: dividing, arguing. Their impossible questions fringing her face, girding her bones, ringing in every room.
20. Is it a common belief that the appearance and resemblance of children depends on what the mother sees during the time she is leaving the mikve and during her pregnancy?
Leah Falk is the author of To Look After and Use (Finishing Line Press, 2019). Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, FIELD, Electric Literature, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she lives in Philadelphia and directs programming at the Writers House at Rutgers University-Camden.
About the Series: These poems are a part of our ongoing series exploring isolation, exile, and “The Everyday Pandemic.” With the arrival of COVID-19 new realities emerged. Isolation became ubiquitous. Everyday movement suddenly came with great risk. The spaces that once brought order and safety became malleable and uncertain. Throughout this series it is our hope to create an alternative conversation to the dominant COVID-19 discourse: one that captures the daily toll of life through the pandemic from the perspective of writers and artists who are familiar with the experience of isolation and exile. With this in mind, we’ve collected stories, poems, nonfiction essays, and digital art from writers and artists from all walks of life and from all around the globe.