Stephanie Rao

if when you slice open an infant’s belly

            and water spills in the pints meant for blood,

then that baby seeks hospitality and home, not

            haven. a place reserved for the dead.

the baby’s fingers have pruned and lost their

            softnesss, the defining infant trait. she has been afloat yellow rafts

with puncture holes not from assault rifles, just use.

rifles represent war and therefore a reason for hostility. the baby

looks through the holes and into the water beneath her, in hopes of

            seeing some pretty fish instead of her mother’s faces. mother,

whose skin is war torn, her ancestry scarred across her face

            with love. when mother takes her daughter’s hand,

it feels like her husband’s, a skin she associates with

making love to a gun shaft which turned to making love to his dead

body. she’s forgotten the daughter’s name, calls her Baby because how

could a mother let her blood’s identity slip away? it’s like self-infidelity

 to let her daughter’s name vanish. she mutters sorry to her

god and to the water. Baby drinks the salt when missing

home, and with so much water surrounding, the salt insists on taking

the liquid inside her for nothing but biological thievery. mother notices

the extra pink tint of Baby’s lips, a natural flush meant for the cheeks but found

lower. the pink that would’ve made the men think her youth hood meant

extra eager. love bonds between two oceans, safeguarding their passage to safety. travel,

            when for the sake of belonging, brings solely longing. hunger means

do i prepare my baby to eat me or disassociate from myself

            to eat her. living in fear stops cruelty, moves to desperation.

back to the beginning, reader,

did you not notice you killed the baby?

mother shrugs her overboard. the raft is easier to navigate

            with less weight. Baby sinks to meet the slaves from the middle

passage. they greet her with kindness, give her to a woman who looks

            like her mother if her eyes are closed. the woman cradles her to sleep.

Stephanie Rao lives in San Antonio, Texas where she attends Keystone School as a senior. She has previously been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, earning a National Silver Medal in short story and poetry throughout the years. She has also attended the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio and Interlochen Summer Arts Academy to further develop her writing.

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