Layli Long Soldier




If the stanza’s a room then     in the doorway I spoke soft with baby like a poet

early mornings as if the baby swirled within I syllabled pattern

and paper and put I tapped my breath to womb as pulse and pace teach first

yet the baby was gone by the time they checked truth is

a scopic rod pried it showed nothing my head turned to left

away from the black screen white radial lines tissue he scraped

I roll over even now my head to the left

the direction of beginnings black mark of the first letter: left, I still ask

When did I?

Where did I?               







The night I bled was a long loop a circle night sub-earthly black and red

hands outstretched to the dark I felt my way to the sink and toilet

did it happen          then           I told him

Babe I’m bleeding we cried in the middle of the stanza

hugged as my legs shook glass tore our throats we stood

that second time unlike the first we knew what bleeding meant at the mercy

with a limited clinic closed on Sundays I explored the internet

a baby’s not a fetus at eight weeks it’s an embryo webbed hands eyelid folds

still I say baby soft like a poet two even syllables ti.ny. bo.dy. or I.was.

evenly bent in two perhaps it’s just spotting I self-soothed         then  

curled to the mattress my eyes splintered tree limbs red tips night window

each hour pulled downward salt waves the long ebb ocean currents

sea dregs to my bed sheets the shores my lashes I could not open

my mouth to complain in the night what more could be said

until the hard morning finally to shove this body into jeans my breath

each bump along the highway a maze of mirrors motherhood the hospital

at the sign-in window the procedural lady with a computer queried

what’s my home phone cell phone and where did I work what’s my address

I’m bleeding I need help now I said then    her clicking fingers the damned phone

in the clinical room that cold stanza I lay on a padded table clean white paper

my legs red wet the nurse did look at me and she looked like me I watched her

how she held my arm empathetic us two women mouthless us two

knowing better than to say _________       was just us women a moment   

quiet as snow     at the mercy     us avalanched empty





Sad a baby can X long before bleeding begins often

the uterus does its cleaning through blood  a methodical machine

washes itself new baby gone the mother         left

yet how do I wash clean one year later              from a dream—

a nightscape there I lined my lips red in a cloudy mirror

in a train station bathroom of all places filthy

more stained and stinking wretched by the second it was next to me

a baby wrapped in blankets on a moldy sink counter its silence

I assumed the baby dead but my conscience said hold him

I unwrapped to find the baby breathing as my horror as his diaper rash

open sores half-way up baby’s back and a deformed nose

a loose flab of nose flesh down his fragile face

I will care for the baby I thought his nose can be fixed           then

appeared the baby’s older brother standing at the sink’s edge curious

and another much older brother dark haired at the door

in a train station bathroom I held a forgotten baby          left

in a bathroom where no one possibly feels washed

surrounded by three boys

needing a mother I was

their mother in a dream wherein they visited

me in a stanza where we could be nearest each other        breathing

the filth they found me in      or I would rescue them from—

which in this world is it.














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Layli Long Soldier
About the Author

Layli Long Soldier is the author of WHEREAS, forthcoming from Graywolf Press in March 2017. She is the recipient of a 2015 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation National Artist Fellowship, a 2015 Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a 2016 Whiting Award. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.