The Night Before

by Meg Winnecour

Light tonight is mixed in flashes. Muted oranges scrape heavy-bottomed clouds while a distant storm smears their southern edge.

One night seven years ago over takeout Japanese
I told my parents I was pregnant.
They smiled and looked down at their plates.

I didn’t know then that there are no words for such sea changes.

How could they possibly tell me of
sleepless nights
the marble coolness of baby skin
fevers and first words
melting hugs and sticky kisses
a lifetime of heartrending absences and returns–
the swimming. Oh, the swimming.
Even now I struggle to reduce it.

What could they have said to convey that seismic shift?
How could I possibly have held it?

This changeling night my daughter blithely
eats her hot dog dipped in ketchup. Her golden hair
still damp from a day in the lake frames her round brown face.

How could I possibly tell her of the
next seventeen years of hard chairs and dull pencils
lost teeth and the irresistible smell of the skin between her fingers
lunchtime that ends too quickly
teachers she’ll worship and revile.
Penny drops that smell like iron on her palms.

Meg Winnecour is a mother, teacher, and artist. When not standing in front of a room full of middle school girls, she can be found riding bikes or drawing mermaids with her six-year-old daughter.

About The Night Before—This was written at the kitchen table the night before my daughter’s first day of kindergarten.