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ISSUE:  Summer 2022


They call it kneading
as in dough or massage, this act

of pawing at my bathrobe
by kittens. How lasting the memory

of the mother’s comfort,
babies pushing at her belly

to bring the milk forth.
The gift of warmth

while the mother grooms
with a rough tongue, or simply waits,

regal and elegant, dozing
and blinking over her litter.

The kittens press on
and bare their claws

unaware of the pain they cause
in their shows of affection.

They dig now as though
for memories that precede them,

claw or no claw, the insistence
of paws against fur or flesh, nuzzling

for the nipple. I won’t forget
the sting of my baby’s lips

at my breast after a long night
of biting, how raw the skin grows

long before any teeth show. When
I see new mothers clutching

little bundles at their hips,
guiding tiny lips to take

what they will give
and give and give

I still ache
with the phantom

spring of milk. How
we need and we need.

We need into each other
and out of each other.

In the early days,
in a haze of lost sleep,

my infant’s initial nibble
struck me an ancient summon

urging forth the prehistoric:
a distant call—

emergent, embryonic,
meant to burgeon

and bloom. Then the milk
sprang forth like a warm elixir.

A call and response
I was hardwired to answer.



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