Celina Su was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and lives in Brooklyn. Her first book of poetry, Landia, was published by Belladonna* in 2018. Her writing includes two poetry chapbooks, three books on the politics of social policy and civil society, and pieces in journals such as n+1, Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. Su is the Marilyn J. Gittell Chair in Urban Studies and a Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York.
How To Wean
For the PMs
First, close your eyes, attune yourself to the smell of white. For before she can see, she opens and closes her mouth like a ﬁsh. First trying to suck milk, then, learning to breathe--
Second, submit a fuller presence. For a few days, your skin develops hives, allergic to this new life. The nurses are not concerned. Over the next three weeks, feel your organs moving closer to their previous locations. Once she’s three months old and aware of her surroundings, she turns her head in the direction of any noise, of anyone speaking. She refuses to nurse with a cover on. Our bedroom a sundial. Tell the time by
the shadows on your walls. Sequential all-consuming moments. Are they discrete (discreet). Each day an always, each emergent thought an emergency of cold gifts. The milk is creamy yellow in the morning, translucent white in the afternoon, blue when you are overcoming an infection, passing on antibodies to prepare for the ﬂu season.
Third, paint a portrait of oxytocin, of cuddle hormone, of love drug. Of excessive nostalgia for the insurgent mundane.
[One December afternoon, she inexplicably refuses to nurse from the time she wakes, at 6 am, into early afternoon. The hospital lactation consultant orders that I go topless, bring the baby back to a primitive state, wearing her skin-to-skin. I immediately skype into a work meeting, a dissertation defense. Light-headed, I attempt to ask smart questions,
though I am confident (fairly) that
I haven’t articulated a thought (coherent) since
again, as if nothing had happened. I take my temperature, feel a lump, a fever. I doubt this somatic knowing until it has been quantified by the thermometer. For worrying is my mode of loving, my galactagogue. Fenugreek, blessed thistle, goat’s rue. Down, ruefully. For facts can be real but not true, but. To coo milk ducts one last time for the plastic pump in my office at work, I binge-watch videos of her under fluorescent lights.
Each of these lines takes me two days to stitch together, for I write/ think only in minute-long spurts, between wailings to be held, to behold. This poem, then, a slow, long exposure of several weeks. Our presences blur. Can I, will I remember that even as the past is present the future is also and she has not yet become because she already is. Each day, will I again for the first time.]
A parting is also a bonding, a present a gift ever a participle. What have you done? Never mind what you have not done, you are in the midst of doing.
Fourth, return to naturally as if in a rift between body and home, as if inured to exceptionalist discourse. For when your two bodies soften, nursing aggrandizes your sense of self: a biological act, when you were, an imperfect tense, this, as if there were a previous normal, whither hysterical after a hysterectomy, relaxed with relaxin. For biology is not symbiotic, nor parasitic, for your true self again,
Upteenth, is my relational, is your desperate, are our utterly aspirational declarations of interdependence. Your feet ﬂatten, my rib cage permanently expands.
New York, May 2020
If, from my ashes, surreptitiously scattered in the park, dumped into a sound or an ocean, Czechoslovakians might be born, we could then possibly transcend, ﬁnally, nation-states on our paper holograms. That the land instead become Central Europe, the Balkans Southeast Europe, no longer Balkanized. Not or but and. Turtles do not reincarnate; they simply keep on living. Trudging their beds from Dhakar to Berlin, ﬁne-tuning the difference between their RAM and their hard drive. An order of passing.
My mouth kisses no carnations, especially pink ones, nor chrysanthemums. Give me peonies; give me no imminent lips but those I will kiss for decades to come. Their absences just a bit less conspicuous this year, for I am ensconced this spring, trying to soften my shell. I make no pilgrimages to pay my respects, to the cemetery or to a lux, overpriced Sunday brunch. Tulips ﬁll the sidewalks, dogwoods, apple blossoms, purple allium bulbs, bearded irises. Laid bare, casting away niceties, the pretense of normalcy; the precariat’s willow, weeping, hyperventilating now.
Even as we fear it sneaking upon us from Hades or Mictlantecuhtli, it pounces from above. From glistening crowns and serrated border walls, from wars and a reliance upon seasons. From fear of paper ballots, from daily conferences. From growing up with sickness as sin and muscling through. The spike, envelope, and membrane proteins create a casing, fusing with the host cell, inﬂaming alveoli, ﬁlling our upside down trees with ﬂuid and debris. Ground-glass opacity, but microbes are but pawns. By executive order, 3,000 steaks a minute, slicing their shoulders. By 1,000 cuts, by a million, by a trillion. From eﬃciency, most vulnerable, bits of tenderloin. By executive order, whether 5 or 100, veal.
Spring is typically when we ﬂirt, when we unearth, when we speech, when we speech more, with. Others commune with the dead after the harvest moon, my family sweeps tombs after the spring equinox. The sight of her toddling-- quickly, like a penguin-- to the window several times a day, standing there like a cat in a children’s storybook. A cozy perch, or a prison, or a portal. Give me rainbow hair at golden hour, a mid-morning engagement party on the sidewalk, with cheesy-ass saxophone in the light rain. To maintain noise as a social practice. To console her, all those I hope remain implacable. Inspired by Turrell, I attempt to make peace with the shifting elements, but I read that he shut down his installation in the Queens Museum. Now, a luxury condo scrapes the sky he framed.