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Sometimes Oral History Comes Off Recorder as Poem or, Birth Story

By River 瑩瑩 Dandelion

my mother mimics her body                                            i was in labor for three days
stick bug straight                                                                  in a hospital bed in Brooklyn
arms plastered to side                                                       the lighting was harsh for your eyes.

she sits at the kitchen counter                                       you were due to be born but refused
eyes beaming bright                                                          so i laid there, bleeding.

voice low & soft
we are still living together.                                               the nurse heard me scream
                                                                                                     and closed the door
                                                                                                     because i was too loud    

my father out, gardening                                                  i was too loud!

she repeats the punchline   
i laugh uncomfortably 

humor, always present                                                       on the third day
for stories like these                                                            the doctor finally came in

they only ever saw her blood platelets                       i was bleeding too much.

left my mother alone                                                          took me to the operating room
bed, witness to another                                                    and just stood there       

                                                                                                     put his head down here
uterus, unnamed                                                                 and said push! 

so many words i never learned
in 台山話 even mooning          
translates to                                                                           the thing is coming.

what is the generational lifespan   
of shame?                                                                                you took forever to come out

culpable even as a baby                                                   your head was too big   

velcro i’ve been adorned                                                 i didn’t know how to push

i choose queerness                                                            i wanted to take a class on birth-giving
       to diverge from tradition                                          but your dad said no,
that cannot                                                                            you don’t need it.
             hold me.   
                                                                                                   when i pushed i didn’t know how
                                                                                                   so instead of pushing from the bottom
my mother’s body, a seesaw                                         i did it from the top.  

                                                                                                    your dad rocked me 
my mother’s body,                                                             up and down   
a circus display.     

she speaks with levity                                                       the doctor just stood there
                                                                                                    and said, push.

i hear the stillness                                                               my friends were praying 
a stopped kettle.                                                                 i felt their Spirit


                                                        this child will live
                                                        you will not die.

breathing heavy                                                                  i laid there
clasped hands                                                                     your father let go.
                                                                                                   that’s how you were born
                                                                                                  into the world
crying for justice.




Listen as River 瑩瑩 Dandelion reads Sometimes Oral History Comes Off Recorder as Poem or, Birth Story.

Added: Thursday, September 7, 2023  /  Used with permission.
River 瑩瑩 Dandelion
Photo by Cindy Trinh.

River 瑩瑩 Dandelion is a practitioner of ancestral medicine through writing poetry, teaching, energy healing, and creating ceremony. As a poet, he writes to connect with the unseen and unspoken so we can feel and heal. As a healer, he is a trained reiki practitioner who helps clients move through transition and transformation. A Tin House Resident, Lambda Literary Fellow, and Kundiman Fellow, River is the author of remembering (y)our light. His work is published in Best New Poets, The Offing, Bellevue Literary Review, The Margins, Asian American Journal of Psychology, and elsewhere. A 2023 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, River loves to swim and does this work for queer and trans ancestors and descendants to come. Learn more about River's work at his website.

Image Description: River Ying Dandelion looks to the left, up at the sun, with a smile on his face. His black hair is short and he wears a navy blue jacket over a navy button-up and a blue stone necklace.

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