Milk arrives like a blessing in my dreams—
blue-white as a glacial waterfall from a far-off thaw.
In my most joyous dream, a precious rare appearance,
I am old—old as I am now. But suddenly, my breasts
are filled with milk again and waking I remember
the neonatal ward, where my full-term bilirubin baby
looked like some blue-ribboned, beefy best-in-show.
In reality, of normal size, my jaundiced giantess
dwarfed the pink wrinkled heartbreaking preemies
riddled with tubes and sensors in their Isolettes.
They sent me home in tears, bereft, without my baby—
blindfolded in her fish tank under therapeutic light,
without me (impossible!)—her only known universe.
For two unrelenting days at home, my milk dripped,
useless as my love. For two years after, she drank her fill.
Milk courses through my dappled world of dream.
My breasts are swollen, tender, nipples tipped in red.
My milk is a river flowing to the land of tiny babies.
All—now all can emerge from their boxes, alive.
Those who said I wouldn’t have enough were wrong.
I walked through a field just sprayed with herbicide.
Found out later, didn’t know at the time.
A pregnant neighbor, alerted early, got out of town.
But I didn’t sense the stealthy carcinogens
suffusing my system, still don’t know their insidious plans.
I’ve tried so hard to suss out where the mugger lurks,
the track of the careening truck, the cracks
in concrete. How I’ve wished for a well-trained rat
to sniff out all potential minefields in my life.
I scrub melons, wear subway gloves.
Who could imagine that three days after 9/11,
when shifting winds blew the awful ashes
of the fallen towers and the dust of the dead
northwards to the aerie I call home, that I would
(and did) throw open my windows to let my brethren in.
*Roundup ™ is a Monsanto herbicide.
TIME STRETCHED OUT…
that August when my father died −
like the summer I turned twelve
and my knee started to go soft,
to pull apart, until the doctor
braced it straight for seven weeks,
while pulp knit into bone.
When my father’s legs gave way,
as he trudged to buy the paper,
the pavement cracked his jaw and watch.
In the cancer ward, I wound the stem each day,
as mornings and evenings fused in pain,
and he hid his hands beneath the sheets.
As Father’s life thinned and dimmed,
Mother screamed at the cicadas
whirring and ticking in the endless heat,
like invisible clocks from another planet
with multiple suns and
years of a thousand days.
Time unwound that summer −
returned me to the weeks of nightmares
that my knee had turned to flour and water.
And Father came to soothe me into calmer sleep.
When I kissed him hours before he died,
he whispered he was not afraid.
As old age courteously extends
its clichéd bony hand to me,
I’ve replayed this farewell
like fingers fraying and fraying
the silky edging of a baby blanket
when the lights go out.
Toni Mergentime Levi is a poet and librettist. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections: White Food (2016) and Watching Mother Disappear (2009), both from Mayapple Press, and For A Dancing Bear (1995) from Three Mile Harbor. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Prairie Schooner, Crosscurrents, Confrontation, Kansas Quarterly, California Quarterly and Apalachee Quarterly, as well as online, on radio (WBAI-FM) and in anthologies. Toni has been awarded residencies at VCCA, Schloss Wiepersdorf (Germany), Konstepidemin (Sweden), MacDowell, Djerassi, Ucross, Millay and Saltonstall. Thanksgiving, one of two operas and several other collaborations with composer Paul Alan Levi, won a Grand Prize for New Opera from the National Music Theater Network. A collaboration with composer Charles Fussell premiered at the Tanglewood Music Center and will be released on a recording by the Boston Modern Opera Project. A native New Yorker, Toni lives in Manhattan. Her website is www.tonilevi.com. The poem “Milk” has been previously published in her collection, White Food.