ember swift


holding pipe


I’m running out of air.
    I’ve slipped into a pipe that is just getting narrower
    soon, not even air will be able to slip through
    I had one, and then another  
    two, too close together


The life I used to lead: art, travels, pursuits of creation, time to meander, ruminate, consider, dip myself into a warm bath of quiet contemplation, wrinkling
my fingertips, steaming up the windows

is gone.


It’s sucked into their little fingers, the breast pump,

the mornings without waking from dreams that I can take time to remember

the nights full of hungry groping for feedings, baby bird cries.

My breasts, two things that used to bring me pleasure and now, are


    After this is over, I don’t think I’ll ever let anyone suck on my tits again.

They’ve become utilitarian. Feeding Pipes.


And time, it’s only trickling through, there’s barely any space for its passage
    I want to suck it back, hard like it’s a long lost milkshake that I can savour     without
    having to share it with a toddler, that I can make in a blender


its whirling engine waking a wee one. I miss my luxurious smoothie life.


But, I know this is right: these kids, their wiggly wonder, this slower pace,
this pursuit of other creations through the cylinder of ink.

         What I don’t know is if I’ll be able to get through it, this pipe

elbows are scraping along its inside edges

and I am alone in here. So alone.

And I’m so angry with him.

    his arms outstretched as he swirls,

a tornado spiral of resistance to the idea that

“fatherhood must not interrupt selfhood”

he visits fatherhood like an amusement park, he gets the swirls and the giggles

he subcontracts fatherhood to his cultural traditions of extended family

and then delegates in the off hours, when he finally gets home,
           when they’re asleep,


the house hushed and holding,

the mommy, bug-eyed and wedged.

He carves space for himself, by spinning those jackhammer helicopter arms
the rubble of his passage crumbling itself into everyone else’s space.
    Princely entitlement. Pollution.

Who cleans it up?

The one who thinks first about those little feet at risk of sharp stones, strewn.


A mother’s role is not negotiable. She may be permitted leave to earn an income but when she returns, she’s expected to mother immediately. There is no rest, no elected personal space, no private office. Certainly no pity.

    “Aren’t you so lucky to have extended family, the built-in nursery care, the Chinese village? You’re so much luckier than your Western friends!”

     “It’s not compensational,” I say in awkward grammar, to she who is stepping in for him, as this is her role: ‘to replace her son.’


Because I just chose the wrong Chinese verb, I have stumbled from the debate podium.


“A foreigner who just doesn’t understand Chinese ways,”
she says with sharp eyes slicing tomatoes. 


“One cannot replace the other,” I say, quietly, long after the moment, and it’s lost in the clinking of dishes and loud rushing of the sink’s tap.

I didn’t marry her.

Grateful and resentful in the same breath: that is life in the pipe.


Two feelings, entwined, constrict


Maybe that is the spiral of life, DNA, and it has come to be
after the lives that we made, together, with our spiraling bodies, came to be.

and then you left me here, to deal
    with the diapers

because you knew I would
    Or worse, that I could.


It would be fine if you would crawl in here with me. I’ll make room for you. I promise. I won’t be mad. We will clutch at each other, wrap around like we used to, intertwining limbs.

We might feel suffocated yes, but it will be collective suffocation. Seems less fatal, perhaps. Love lubricates. It solves a stopped pipe. Love gets you through. We will make it.


Until then, he flows free, I’m stuck. No one notices.


I think I finally figured out how to tell him this. Last month I said:

你自由的代价是我的自由。(The price of your freedom is my freedom.)
    He paused mid-spin. He held me in the hushed house …
    and then started spinning again the next day, like it was just another day.

Construction must resume.

His cultural roles hung neatly, tightly against the walls of his gender,
    they crowd me in, not out.  

The haggard mother prototype rarely elicits compassion. That’s just a mother’s role, society says. Mothers are miracle workers. Motherhood is hard. Mothers don’t get enough credit—the truth is

It’s. Just. Fucking. Lonely.


Here, in China, in my house,

Hushed and holding.


I’m in a holding pattern, they say. Just give it time. When they’re older,
it will be easier. But can I hold out?

This is not a tank; it’s a pipe.


And I need you. 

Hushed and holding



hold my hand.