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.