After I had carried her those nine months, those two hundred and eighty-four days, each with its sheaf of hours, each hour fanned out into minutes, into seconds, as though time had been sliced thin as onionskin — After I’d hauled this cache of cells as it swept through a kind of rough evolution, devising arms buds and sex buds and the buds for twenty milk teeth — And then birthed her, my cervix cranked open, a rusty hinge. And the pain — what a tree might feel when lightning splits it and the two halves fall away — Then I realized — I’m not proud to admit this is what it took — that everyone was lugged in the sack of a woman’s body, a woman stretched past reason or slit with a steel scalpel. Even if she left that baby right there without counting the pearly toes, thumbing the miniature knuckles, even if she didn’t look into the face, neutral as Buddha, before thirst even. If she was drugged or relieved and the baby whisked away, still she gave this child every intricate bone of both feet, the hollow vertebrae, tiny liver, lungs that fill with air for the first time and begin, without a lesson, bringing this world in and releasing it. Did Mary feel this when the angel came to her holding his useless lily? Not in the surfeit of gilt frames where she’s poised, serene, but those few where the artist knew, had seen women already crushed, bowed. I was standing in the long hospital corridor when the knowledge entered me. I didn’t want it. It was grief — extending back through time and reaching into the future, all these babies, all these mothers with their hearts beating outside their bodies. And now I was one of them, lashed to the human line.