A Mother Is a Super Nova

Sienna Chapman

There are tsunamis in space,

that surge with such ferocity as to

light the interstellar medium

as they pass. This

is what contractions feel like.

Between each I see galaxies

behind my eyelids, Nebulae,

gestating and marbled, churned

by hot filaments of fluorescing gas.

I see the Magellanic clouds as spiders’ webs,

adorned by neonatal stars:

dew drops. The universe

swaddles her infants in dust.


There are nocturnal rivers

in earth’s deserts. They swell

above the surface only while

photosynthesis pauses, during the

lightless hours of our rotation.

I am living a similar primordial geometry:

Damp and dilating, a surge.


There are equations poetic enough

to describe the curvature of the universe,

to illustrate the delicacy of quarks

the elegance of planetary rings and

the bloom of distant quasars.

I find solace in this. New life

and reality

are similarly

formulaic in their birth.

We all blossom.


Eyes perceive reality

tracing photons from what they

most recently reflected but

this is only accurate assuming

that the universe is flat. My contracting

body is dense enough to distort space-time,

to bend light. My womb is a well in the fabric,

around me light contours and these

ephemeral moments are



With the opening of those pre-dawn eyes

opens also a fissure, a depth, a chasm

a horrific new dimension of love.

This planet: too frail

for my baby. I wonder how

I will preserve her sweetness

in an entropic universe, how

I will quench her thirst in a drying region. I

wonder what lies I will tell. For her

I will flash flood. For her


I will super nova



A mother in a refugee camp tells another, “I have lost my children. If you don’t lose yours it is not that you are better, or stronger, just that you were luckier.”



In what is left of Louisiana a mother holds her newborn to her swollen breast and she sees engorged storm clouds roll over a new country. They are gravid with wetlands, ready to break the levees and give birth to a new coast.



A queen in a tower in New York invests in inland property for her prince.



A mother gives birth in the family detention camp in Artesia.



A mother in what is left of Louisiana considers the flood. She considers the grey-blue of that storm and the grey-blue of her son’s new eyes. She considers rust-red tap water, lead, and electricity. She considers blue versus black brutality. She considers fallen empires.



A mother in a refugee camp hears but does not listen to the words of the other. She would die before she lost her children, they already survived. They will be on their way to America soon. She considers fallen empires.



A queen in a tower in New York gazes over her husband’s billion-dollar fossil empire. The view from the penthouse is muted and impressionistic. From above she can see only what she chooses but she knows that tendrils of blackness and crime will entangle her blond prince. He is only a child. She considers fallen empires.



A mother in the family detention camp in Artesia is not afraid. Within these chain link fences she and her child will be fed at least a little, and within these chain link fences there are no cartels. Previously she had been studying astrophysics, she had a better education than the men who deported her. She had made breakthroughs on the Einstein Cross. She will raise her child to believe in gravity. She considers fallen empires, and the weight of water in the Sonora.




Deserts are swelling.

America sees a spike in opioid addiction.

Flint is lead.

The tropics migrate north.

The northern-hemisphere spring leans into February.

The levees break.

Siberian permafrost melts, anthrax is revived from a frozen carcass.

Wildfires crown.

Arizona arroyos cut fifty-seven feet in ten years.

Tropical parasites flourish at higher and higher latitudes.

Weather patterns increase in intensity.

The cryosphere recedes.

Western reservoirs sit at half-capacity and developers build pools in Phoenix suburbs.

Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide increase, oxygen decreases.

The acidity of the ocean shifts.

Plastics find their way into the Mariana trench.

The water table lowers, inaccessible springs within deep canyons run dry, unnoticed.

Sinkholes envelope homes.

State-sized chunks of ice calve off the continental ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica.



The queen misspeaks and is raped by her elderly husband, until she is silent.



The refugee mother is detained at the airport, her oldest is handcuffed by the order of the king, he is four. Her youngest is left in the car seat, buckled in, crying just out of reach for hours. Her breasts ache for her littlest. They have all of their papers and all of their documents, they speak English better than many.



In Artesia the mothers of malnourished children wonder why they never knew about this side of America. They are sharing their stories. One tells the others, “I was brought here as a child, I remember an evening in the Sonora, one thirsty night of our crossing. I looked up, and I had never seen so many starts. I thought the vastness of the universe was reassuring. Even if we died of thirst those stars would not change. I went to one of the best colleges, that doesn’t matter now. I made breakthroughs, I wonder if they will deport my research too …” She chuckles, her newborn smiles in her sleep. She casts a longing glance up at the ceiling.



In Louisiana a mother applies for food stamps and is denied. She has drug history. She was caught with weed in high school. Her milk will run dry if she does not get food. Formula is more expensive. She spends her last few dollars at McDonalds and walks home. Her middle feels spongy and hollow and holding her baby outside of her body still feels unnatural. She feels faint standing and lies her tiny child on dirty floors so that she may kneel to change his diaper, she has four left. Her husband was arrested, their vehicle impounded, it would have happened regardless.



In Artesia, a mother names her daughter America. She is still unsure how to talk to her child. It feels unnatural, speaking to this wrinkly fidgeting thing. She was told that her universe would change when the baby was born, but it hasn’t happened yet. America’s eyes are open, so her mother speaks to her. “I am wondering about the origin of the name of this place,” the mother says. “An Artesian spring is one that is under pressure, your father could have told you more about it. An aquifer covered by an impervious layer is pressurized until the water finds the path of least resistance, until the water is free.”



People write speeches for a queen. She speaks about homeless children, and refugees, and her promises as queen. When she was a child she had been sold for her body.

She was traded, but mastered her trade and now ruled over a failing state. Her prince will never know hunger.



A refugee mother is finally given access to her children. Her toddler is uncuffed, her baby is allowed to nurse and have her diaper changed. In a distant court strangers decide her fate and for now decency prevails. She and her children exit the airport into a peculiar winter heat. From here they will board a taxi to a bus and they will go west.



In Louisiana a mother decides to ask for help. She needs diapers, she need things for her own leaking postpartum body, she needs to eat and she needs to go somewhere drier. She finds her brother, a man in a windowless room. Strangers sit outside of the room, waiting, some itch incessantly at their skin. The brother has two things on his desk: a gun and a bag of dollar bills. He gives her enough money for a bus ticket west, a little extra for other things and he says, “This is for my nephew, not you.” Something is pulling her west.



The family detention camp in Artesia suddenly sees a spike in deportation. Already stretched thin for space and resources, the population is now much more concentrated. New protocols allow agents to stalk their prey outside of elementary school, detaining and deporting parents dropping off their children. More and more children are left unaccompanied and sent to Artesia. Many are malnourished on arrival. The hearts of mothers break.



A queen in her tower feels something electric. Like metallic taste of lightning before it strikes. Something is coming. Something is pulling her west.



In Louisiana a mother boards a greyhound with her peaceful black newborn. The color of his skin is everything. His eyes have shifted from grey-blue to perfect ebony. His fresh curls are the softest. In the back of the greyhound, his mother cries for the first time since he was born. Her beautiful black son is not perfect to this country. In this country, children like hers were crocodile bait. She must leave. Something about sand sounds appealing to her, something about a desert.



A refugee family prepares for the next part of their journey. They have distant relatives in the west. They will make a home in the desert. The mother wears a headscarf, like her mother before her had and like her daughter eventually will. In the bus stop bathroom she changes her baby’s diaper. The baby gurgles and kicks her legs playfully.

Another young mother waits to use the changing station and she apologizes profusely to the American woman. The girl just smiles, hushes her own baby and says, “Please, take all the time you need.” On the bus her children sleep but she kept up by the quiet sobs of another woman.



In Artesia, a mother whose daughter is named America wakes in the middle of the night. She hears other babies crying, she hears the breath and the snores of the other families. She sees her daughter’s quiet face, smiling in her sleep, and tears spring from her eyes. “You are so sweet,” she says to her baby, she says it in Spanish then English. “You are the universe.” The love she feels opens her and guts her. She wonders if this dimension is hell. It must be, if all mothers’ love their children as much as she suddenly loves her daughter, and some mothers lose their children, and some children grow up in detention camps, and some children suffer. How could this be anything but hell?



A queen in a tower in New York is comforting her son. He has fallen and skinned his knee. He is crying and she tells him men have nothing to cry about. Her husband is a king, her son is a prince, and the world is still won by men and lost by men. Her son gets mad at her and screams. “Daddy should blow you up with a nuke! Daddy said a nuclear holocaust would be like no other!” The queen is calm; someday her son will know compassion because the world he will inherit will be only that. “Daddy might be right.” She says, “If there is a gun on the shelf, it will go off.”



A greyhound bus travels west.




A king in a president’s office fumbles relations.

The top eight richest men in the world possess more wealth that the bottom 50%.

Atmospheric CO2 levels pass 400 parts per million.

Thawing of lake beds in Alaska sends explosive methane bubbles up through ice.

There are seven billion people on planet Earth.

Nasa discovers seven Earth-sized planets elsewhere in the galaxy.

A coal-fired generating plant shuts down.

Pipelines are approved.

An early spring settles over Death Valley and it is blanketed in yellow wildflowers.

Migrations of beautiful tropical birds reach higher latitudes.

The Great Barrier Reef is bleached, but at the mouth of the Amazon new coral flourishes.

While half-capacity western reservoirs dry up, submerged slot canyons reemerge.



A greyhound bus arrives in Phoenix Arizona and the passengers are struck by the dryness. Some feel at home and others feel as though they have arrived on another planet. Relatives meet two families. It is spring in the west and cacti bloom. This region evolved from a tropical forest and on quiet hills you can still hear the jungle cacophony echoing among the saguaros. Something about that echo is reassuring to those who know how quickly the planet is changing now: the Sonora never forgot the rain.



A queen and her son fly west. They don’t fly first class, they aren’t dressed the way they usually do. The passenger next to them talks nonstop on the flight. The prince rolls his eyes. The passenger next to them has darker skin, his hair is long and black and braided. He tells them how happy he is to be going home. He tells them that his people chose to live in a desert because it wasn’t easy, because the difficult living there meant they must remain holy, they must pray for rain. The queen considers fallen empires.



In the family detention camp in Artesia, New Mexico, those who have windows see a light in the east: a flash, nuclear white.


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There will be mothers who are apart from their children when the bombs drop. There will be mothers who don't know if their little ones suffer, and they will cope with that.

There will be mothers who cradle their babies in rubbermaid boxes and walmart ice chests and they will float them, dry and safe and lulled by surges of Atlantic super storms.

Our tenacity will be boundless, our ingenuity will be cosmic. While the universe tends toward infinite entropy we will always be coding information into proteins, proteins into cells, cells into life, life into humans and humans into hope. Because we always have.


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