When I was an infant
and my two brothers were infants
and my mother and father
were infants, we lived in a windowless room.
Five cribs arranged in a ring
beneath a solar system mobile:
styrofoam orbs from Mercury
through Jupiter. The only light
a nightlight on the wall.
The colored planets were how
we learned sight, one another’s murmurs
how we learned hearing.
Then the brittle star appeared on the floor,
wide as our room, five slender arms
emerging from a brainless, mouthed core.
It had been there all along, in fact,
but just now stirred. We had no concept
that there could be anything
underneath us. Each arm squirmed
through the bars of a crib. One
parted my father’s lips
and filled his throat. One twirled
around my genitals, and another
around my youngest brother’s.
It prodded my mother’s brain
via the right nostril, and my other brother’s
via the left. The time had not arrived
to learn taste or touch or thought.
We would learn them, eventually,
but the briny arm had been there first
with its nerve-knowledge of the sea floor,
of icy currents and urchin spines,
a habitat of detritus and bite
necessary to its survival.
An incandescent bulb flickered on
in the center of the mobile.
The nightlight was gone.
The brittle star was gone.
And we had begun.
Mitchell Jacobs lives in Vientiane and teaches English at the National University of Laos. His poems appear in journals such as Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Passages North, Ploughshares, and Poetry Northwest.