Ina Cariño

on days when I feel more like a woman

             than a man, I remember that my mother

                          keeps a brown nub buried in her jewelry box,

under strings of pearl & heaps

             of mountain silver. little heart, wrinkled —

                          remains of my umbilical cord, tucked

in a small leather coin purse — nestled

             in folds of rice paper, dotted with spots

                          of its oil. this once - conduit: dermis crusted —

the death of flesh, exemplified. as a child,

             I begged to see it, balked at the funk, prodded it

                          with the pillow of my fingertip, gentle.

when I asked her why she preserved it,

             like a prune, she just laughed & said something

                          about keeping me close until she dies.

you’ll understand, when you’re a mother.

             now, I am of childbearing age. mornings,

                          I stare at my handsome face in the mirror

as I check for lumps in my breasts. on such days,

             when I feel more like a man than a woman,

                          I wince at the thought of being a mother.

& on days when I don’t feel like a woman

             or a man, I think about the brown nub that,

                          for a time, connected me to my own —

imagine how it might now crumble, after years

             buried in her jewelry box. maybe tomorrow

                          I will call her, ask about the little heart.


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