Each year my high priestess, not without blood, phones to recite the story of my birth. We danced by the Chamberlin against a night of few stars, she says, colonnade women and poplin men in brick-soled bucks on bluegrass. Heat lightning tugged at tankers in a dark offing.
We were at a point; you’ve seen the Chamberlin from a skipjack, rising and falling against sky and Hampton Roads, respectively; well, we rose and fell in the barest swell, I’m sure, the Navy Band’s brass and dress whites narrowly ruffled in black water. It was hot, a solstice hot, not unrelenting but apogeic; I think a June night is an anomaly and a celebration, brief as it is, and a summer night young enough to admit that summer hasn’t come, and 1957, too, the boom year of baby boom babies, the height of something you were born to fall from, and the top of a clock; I wanted you born by midnight. I didn’t want you born on the thirteenth.
To the side, in a green, cotton dress, your grandmother, just five years older than you are today, her hair a black and silver you never knew, talked with her friends. I have never thought of her with either friends or dark hair, I think to myself, but later I realize that I had thought last year when Mom had called how I had never thought of her that way; this year, though – I think for the first time – I think: nor have I ever thought of her in a cotton dress.
Between numbers, after months of expansion, the contractions, the clock hands climbing and not falling, the heat a haze and not unrelenting – a presence and a midwife, really – and your father, excusing himself from his fellows, took me by an elbow, if you can picture that. His long, black Studebaker bent around Newport News Point to 50th Street and the hospital, ablaze above the James River and its own silent ships. The doctor and I worked to have you born today; your father, outside, rocked on his heels. 11:43. There you were, and she hangs up again.
I look out my window, appeased. I cradle the phone. I can see the same moon, now an infant, that floated below those ruffled colonnades. But I reflect that the hospital is now a parking lot, and my June nights have become like asphalt, too, expanded and contracted by a hundred solstices, buckled like lips turned upwards for their mother’s kiss.