The River


My daughter, with a hand in each of my hands, walks the tightrope in our backyard. Beneath her, twelve inches of nothing and then hard earth. I am certain I can catch her if she stumbles. I am certain. We have maybe twenty minutes before the rain comes. I know because her hair, like mine, has already begun to curl. “We should go in soon,” I say. Fearless, she laughs and falls back into my arms. Into air thick as water. It is her fourth birthday. The day she was born, I lay on an operating table in Japan when the doctor caught her—cut her from me, really—and passed her to a nurse, who briefly held that pink and bloodied flesh so that I could recognize the momentousness of what had been done. And then she was taken away, and there was only the look in the doctor’s eyes—that sudden focus of walking a tightrope—and the thing he barked about cancelling all his appointments. I could see my body cut open in the reflection of the lights. Organs like wet stones. A glistening and foreign terrain. I could see the clock on the wall. It was not supposed to take this long. My new daughter crying for the first time and my husband holding my hand, holding me with his eyes. It was not supposed to take this long. The doctor’s name—Kawakami, the Chinese characters for “river” and “up.” It was not supposed to take this long. How we are just a sum of parts and yet not. How, in the slow orbit of a second hand, we exist and cease to exist. How all we leave behind is our mark on others. How we love and cannot keep what we love.

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