Fixed Custody

Bonnie Arning

The first time I took my child to the airport boarded him alone on a cross-country plane, I thought of my mother’s un-spayed cat, an American wirehair who’s birthed

dozens of litters, often several a year; her newborns haphazardly thrust upon friends. And during the kittenless interims, my mother’s consistent complaint,

That cat is driving me crazy, she’ll say, It paces the house with socks in its mouth, Those meows–high pitched cries–like it’s dying. She found a chat room where someone had asked:

Why does my cat carry socks in its mouth? And the interrogative reply: How soon before the kittens were taken away? Too young could mean lasting derangement.

Years ago, my ex-husband had sympathized, Poor cat, he’d say, it should have been fixed. And by “fixed” he meant to help it not be a mother as if that is what made it

fragmented and sick. Animal, like the cat, I am a pelted sleek with desire to smell his pillows and read his books; guard his half drank glass long after he and the water

have gone. My son leaves me a message that is twenty seconds of breathing and ten seconds of his small voice pleading Mom? Mom, where are you? Fragmented and sick–

even if I tore out all the parts that made him, I couldn’t eradicate the root of this longing because the root of my child is me. Too early, I’m

sorry, dear son, fragmented and sick I’m afraid, like my mother impetuous, I have signed the wrong papers, I’ve given us both away.

Bonnie Arning is a poet from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the author of Escape Velocity. She lives and teaches in Corvallis, Oregon.