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A hybrid memoir and valentine to her firstborn, Letdown encompasses the story of a woman when fertility issues arise at the same time the diagnosis of her son’s autism, complicating motherhood in unexpected ways. Portrays the transcendence found amidst difficulty.
|Publisher:||White Pine Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
About the Author
Sonia Greenfield lives with her husband, son, and two rescue dogs in Minneapolis, where she edits the Rise Up Review and teaches at Normandale College. Her work has appeared twice in Best American Poetry , among other places. Letdown is her second book.
Read an Excerpt
They used to believe the mis of carriage was payment for a mis-deed. But there are two shadow halves here. One half, failure. The other halfthough which sits on top and which is below is hard to sayis diagnosis.
I ask another member of my default sisterhood if she questions whether some mis- of the body set her son askew on earth, because we always find ourselves blaming our eggs, our age, our appetites. We wonder whether it was something in our milk.
From Connecticut to Washington to California, every place I fled to, all the mothers I meet assume responsibility. We read the latest studies. We try all the cures. We wear a scarlet A.
I remember I didn’t drink then I edit memory and imagine I did. Otherwise, why? All my life I never knew what to say or how to be, and I wonder whether disorder was born in me.
At fifteen and a half weeks I experienced a quickening like popcorn popping or a faint finger-drumming on a small table. Somewhere around eighteen weeks, a plucked nylon guitar string, the feeling acoustic, the music wasn’t electric: fingers rolling off strings like lazy strumming. The inside of my belly the body of a guitar. In the early twenties you kicked your father in the ear, and he was endeared. At twenty-eight, a dryer drum tumbled balled-up socks. At thirty weeks, an earthquake. Hard spots and soft spots, a whole, small body moving in there. All the way around, from below my breasts to just above my pubic bone. You slept when I slept and stayed with me through winter.
I want to describe it, to tell the whole story. That the birthing suite and its muted walls were details lost in rage. That the Joni Mitchell I playedthe candy of her voicecould not be heard over my retching. That all the ways I thought I had prepared were like closing a slider on a tsunami. That I couldn’t listen to myself whimper anymore, the anesthesiologist floating to me like a goddess in institutional blue while I leaned over, trembling, as the thick, blissful needle slipped deep into my back while I hugged the ball of you.
That this is the point where what was should overlay on top of what should have been. That your heart decelerated, machines binged, and your father fetched the nurse. That nurses and doctor rocked my dead legs back and forth to dislodge you. That I had to push you out before full dilation, my cervix torn. That the doctor was stitching for so long. That you, glistening violet, would look me in the face. That the minute you latched on, I became remade in your image. That I would have liked to do it again. That by the time it was possible, I couldn’t.
Frank O’Hara, my sentimental doppelganger, can write birthday poems to Rachmaninoff whom he never knew but loved and I cradle my little boy bluetoday you’re two by the blue windows in the blue light of rain and I can’t write lines that matter I’m so dumb with love. Is it because I need distance to set music to what is weighty, just like the tears that fall from my eyes right into yours? Would my words want to be farther than this?
You seized as we crawled through the interchange, late sunlight glaring off game-day traffic and I stopped, mid-lane, and punched the hazards as you bucked against your car seat. But I wouldn't say I watched , couldn't say I stared , won't say now I saw when your mouth went slack and your eyes rolled white. All I could do was throb.
The ambulance met me where I stopped between three major freeways. Later, your fever lingered and your brown eyes brimmed like a heifer’s. You clung to me while I sat and let my own sweat rise. What could I do otherwise?
Multiple Punctate Bilateral White Matter Lesions. It was a slow Thursday on the ER’s swing shift. The usual except for a boy’s brain tacked to a piece of paper. A nurse walked the white hall down to radiology for the read. Pictures showed the structural underpinnings of a face known for three beauty marks, also a skull slightly flattened on one side from a long road trip east to west at three months old. The nurse is your father.
These could represent areas of focal gliosis. Translation: A hot poker left pointillations on your “front subcortical white matter.”
Alternatively, these could also represent areas of demyelination such as acute encephalomyelitis. Translation: When you put your dirty thumb in your mouth, some virus climbed in. Another possibility would be for a primary demyelinating process. Translation: genetically fucked. Your brain eating itself. There is a mucosal thickening of the paranasal sinuses. Translation: You had a head cold. I had to grab a tissue before you wiped your nose with your hand.
We had to wait a week for diagnosis.
You continue to try and understand words. I say eventually, and you ask what it means. I say something won’t happen now, but it will happen soon. I try to explain how some words have two or more meanings. For example, “letdown.” When you were born, you latched on to fill the bowl of your hunger. You pulled and pulled, then I pumped three ounces of pure colostrum into a bottle the size of your father’s thumb, and you drained that. Then my milk came in with a rush. We were synchronized. Once, when you were eight months old, I rode something like a centrifuge at the fall carnival, and when I stepped off the ride, two wet circles on my shirt marked me as your mother.
let·down [let-doun] noun 1. a decrease in volume, force, energy, etc.: a letdown in egg production. 2. disillusionment, discouragement, or disappointment: Her husband’s refusal was a letdown. 3. depression; deflation: She felt a terrible letdown at the end of her fertility.