“An Incomplete List of Places I Have Breastfed My Second Child” by Laura Tanenbaum

Laura Tanenbaum


Behind Michelangelo’s David.

At the closing for our old apartment, startling the lawyer. I didn’t know there was a baby in here.

At the Met in front of a painting of Mary breastfeeding Jesus, writing jokes about it in my head.

At the Museum of Natural History, in the breastfeeding pod the security guard was proud to tell me about. I would have been happy with a bench but there were no benches. It was oval-shaped inside and white white white, sterile as the bathrooms were disgusting. Like an alien craft, says baby’s big brother.

At Coney Island looking at the ocean, watching the six-year-old play, walking along the shore, whispering to my mother.

At the Cathedral in Trento before lighting a candle and crying for my mother.

In front of the visiting revolutionary. How I love women like this: fighters of a certain age. How the first person plural flows effortlessly from their lips, how they speak in paragraphs complete to the final dash and parenthesis, how they command a room without money or sex. The family is reactionary, of course. She looked up, smiled, and mouthed sorry towards the conked-out babe. It’s OK, I understand, I say, out loud.

At a lunch reception for a friend’s wedding. The groom’s mother told me I should lend them the baby. A boy on the wedding bed is good luck. That’s what we say. Later I learned she also whispered, to her husband, in Greek, You don’t have to stare.

While reading a pirated copy of Fire and Fury, laughing and crying for the world.

At 30,000 feet; on the 7 train at rush hour; while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge at a demonstration of thousands, chanting about babies being ripped from their mothers from the breast.

While typing this list.

At the Met in a hallway next to the Egyptian tomb. The hallway dark to protect the dead. The baby cocks his head in confusion, looks around. I look around. The guard apologizes and looks away.

In a gelato shop in the too-touristy part of Florence where I also bought strawberries that made a mess, and the six-year-old cried, and the woman asked if I was OK, and I cried for my mother.

While looking off into the distance, then down at his face, trying to imprint, trying to hold his face, apologizing for my wandering eyes and wandering heart. No longer crying but whispering and asking for my lost mother like a stray child at the mall.

At the beach in Santa Monica. I looked at the other ocean and counted. Two oceans, two babies, two sides of one of the two oceans. I whispered the ocean to the second baby. What will you give me, the ocean asked. Will you stop flying to me? Will you give your child to me? What will you give, he said, this ocean that, against thousands of years of mythology, I imagine as a man: stern and rough; brutal and old. What will you give for the mothers who have died, the world that dies and births and births and dies.

from Rattle #68, Summer 2020


Laura Tanenbaum: “This poem happened because I got tired of reading articles about how hard it is to write with small kids around. Sure, there’s a lot of interruptions and fragmentation but who’s to say those aren’t the stuff of poetry? With my second child, I was worried I wasn’t paying as close attention to the experience as I was overwhelmed by both my grief over my mother’s unexpected death and the unrelenting bad news taking place in the world. Thinking about all the places I’d fed him became a way to pick up the pieces of a divided time and attention and weave them into something.” (web)

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