Emily Tuszynska on the writing of her poem “Firstborn” in Salamander #44

Our oldest child came at the tail end of a snowstorm so large even my OB was snowed in and unable to reach the hospital in time for his birth. We spent a day and a night cocooned on the maternity ward—blanket-swaddled baby, snow-swaddled hospital—and then carried him out into sunshine so brilliant we had to shield him from it. I have never felt so vulnerable and tender as when I carried that tiny, perfect new being into our flawed, imperfect—even broken—world.  It still feels bold for me to write directly and transparently as a mother about my children. No longer transgressive in this twenty-first century, but perhaps still too easily dismissed. And I don’t want to be afraid to push close to the edge of the sentimentality—I want to let down my guard and be flooded by the experience.


How marvelous, the way he looked and looked
at all the as-yet-unnamed things. Even as the two nurses


rolled him back and forth under the heat lamps,
wiping away blood and meconium, the buttery vernix,


re-clamping the thick, violet umbilical cord, bundling him
into the crinkling diaper with its cutout scoop around the stump—


all the while his gaze fixed on one thing after another.
Under the fluorescent glare he winced and squinted,


but still he looked, as if no matter how painful, this was what
he came here to do. When they were done with him


you eased your splayed hands under, gathering together
the frail, scalloped shoulder blades, the soft, misshapen head,


the bunched and folded limbs, and lifted the slumped
weight of him to your chest, warmth to warmth,


and brought him to me. Outside the world was being made new
again by snow that had started falling with the onset of labor.


All night the plows rumbled past, grinding iron against asphalt
to scrape it clean. The next day we wrote his name on their forms


and buckled him into his carseat and carried him to the doors,
where we paused on the brink of a day turned dazzling.


Overnight the blank white sheet had been sliced and split
by seams of salted pavement. We looked at it straight on,


this broken, blinding world, taking its measure, and then
we stepped into it, filled with tenderness and dread.

Salamander Fiction Contest 2017 Results
Anne Champion on the writing of her poem “We Can’t Breathe” (in Salamander #44)