Momma’s Milk
Chad Crumm


1 9 6 8

At sixteen weeks I make a discovery: I am a boy. At twenty four weeks my teeth sprout and my hair starts to grow. At twenty-eight weeks my eyes open. I suck my thumb and wiggle my toes. Momma fights back pain and long sleepless nights. Pronounced activities fill our days. I develop unusual faculties and an independent nature. My needle-drop ears hear the pulse of the outside world, its car horns and barking dogs, pounding surf, train whistles, and my favorite sound of all, Momma’s voice.

“It’s the clouds, Enzo, it’s the clouds!” Momma says.

She doesn’t see them and neither do I, but she watches their shadows pass outside the windows of our living room. Each morning she collects weather reports from the New England Dispatch, scissors them out, reads them, weighs them, eats them, fries them, and has them for breakfast, not only for something to do, but to report to me what sort of day we should expect: sunshine or rain. This keeps her obsessive mind busy. I hear it bending as she makes her discoveries.

“Enzo, we’re going to the beach!” Or else it’s, “Down she comes!” when it rains. “Blaaaah!”

When the weather is in-between, Momma sighs, hums, and rattles her newspaper like a concert program. But when Poppy comes over, beach day or not, it’s always a shitstorm. Momma’s nervous system goes off like a fire alarm. Although his drinking has been a problem for years, Momma refuses to dump his sorry ass. She feels a responsibility to look after him. At first I understand, but he visits every day, so I’m forced to listen to his overtures, his lies, and wretched sincerity. The sound of his voice make my ears bleed. Then after cursory hellos and obligatory chitchat, the imperious urge blows in.

Momma likes it rough, but for me, without a seat belt, it’s like dodging a pile driver. Upside down, I have no choice but to endure his thrusting member. The last thirty seconds, I’m always clobbered—a bad day for a haircut. But Momma enjoys this sort of thing. I would pray for deliverance, but I’m not the spiritual type. Old-fashion resolve works best for me. I’m a survivor. Not yet born a lout or a boorish thug, although part of my story includes exploits as both, I, Enzo Federico Cavecchio, am forthcoming.

In my last trimester, my end state, my 260th day of 270, my interest in music has already blossomed. To pass the time, I practice. I move my big toe and pinky: thirteen against nine. My thumb taps twelve and my index finger taps seven. Slapping my thigh and stomach, I do fifteen against eleven. I practice scales inside my head. My pitch is just relative, but with enough practice, I hope it turns perfect. I hear a train whistle every night. I love its combinations of intervals. Whether it’s a sixth chord, a nine chord, or both, its doleful cry moves me; its sound grounds me to myself and conveys much better than words, my own inexplicable sadness.

Every Sunday, Momma plays the 45-rpm recording of Jimmy Dean singing about JFK’s heroics on PT-109 during WWII. She cries every time. But when Martin gets his in Memphis and Bobby gets his in California, Momma cries for days. So does God. To kill the pain, He takes up with Cher; it doesn’t work out. He stumbles into a black hole and smokes a pound of weed. Stoned and heart-broken, He summons my needle-drop ears. I can tell He’s lonely and wants to talk, to show a little generosity somewhere in the world—it makes Him feel better. Instead, He confirms what I’ve suspected all along.

“Enzo! You have a genetic flourish, an inheritance of sorts. You are predisposed. Once you’re born, your first stop will be the liquor store, then the state of impairment.”

Momma and Poppy drink like horses. Even today in my pre-born state, I already feel the grind of their gift. Their run off is now my depression, my discontent—resentment, fear, arrogance and obsession; the list goes on. I resent Poppy for his ‘sincerity’; anticipating my upcoming passage into the world, I am full of fear; God doesn’t know what he’s doing; and I’m already obsessed with the opera I’m going to compose for my own funeral, yet I haven’t even seen the light of day!

I have a second inheritance too, but it’s not all bad. It helps me with the first and keeps me sane. Each time my ‘gift’ acts up, a rising moon emerges in the eye of my mind. Beneath it, a river turns and sparkles. As the moon’s silver glow replaces the dark, Cher appears standing on the river bank. Wearing a one-piece shift, she sings. I kick like mule. Nourished, I am grateful. Her presence and the sound of her voice create hope, that there will be a life for me out there after all, that there will be love.

But more pressing matters are at hand. Following a scent of flowers, Momma’s nose guides us to Washington, DC. Caskets full of dead American soldiers from Vietnam are stacked to the sky at the airport and block out the sun. Their shadows reach the Capitol building. Momma reports to me as she watches the politicians scramble from their chambers and remove their glasses to study the unprecedented weather.

“Looks like a big ol’ storm coming down this way! Dark as a dungeon out here!” one says.

But they don’t understand. It isn’t rain and thunder, a cloud, a twister, a dust storm, or locusts they see; it’s the result of their own failed policies. Meanwhile, as protesters hold flowers chanting peace and love in the streets, Momma and I raid the public gardens and join the fray.

At home from our living room window, Momma and her new friend Francine watch the revolution, and from our couch, the evening news. I hear everything. Fueled by common sense, the people want change. They want the politicians and bigots to understand the damage they do, to open their hearts and stop the bloodshed abroad and at home. Flowers sprout from sidewalks, from the holes in politicians’ heads, from the ashes of smoldering churches, gun barrels, and the bosom of rock ’n’ roll.

In the evenings, Momma talks with Francine on the phone. I hear the excitement in her voice. Embracing the sexual revolution, they share their new love for each other, their enthusiasm for music, fashion trends, and the urgency for political change. But when the air is filled with tear gas and pot smoke, Momma has no choice but to run. The tear gas makes her gag. For me, the patchouli oil is the worst. Wilting my olfactory lobes, it’s a head cleaner. So is the weed.
“He’s lying up on the roof in fatigues with a pair of binoculars,” I hear Momma say. “Poppy’s bird-watching again.”

Poppy is a fuck-up from way back. The whole town knows. He thinks the protesters are after him for his redneck ways. But the good news is Francine. Because she’s been coming around, Momma has finally drummed up the courage to sober up and dump Poppy. She’s had it with him and so have I.

F l y i n g  L e s s o n s

“The door is open!” Momma yells.

She takes a long, deep breath. Her nervous system is about to blow. As Poppy walks into our living room, I smell the stolen flowers he holds, his liquored-up breath, and the hair tonic that drenches his scalp. He kisses Momma on the cheek.

“How about that ol’ heartbeat, babe?”

It’s Poppy’s wretched sincerity acting up again—the usual. He wants to put his ear to her stomach and listen to my heart. But she and I both know what he really wants. So Momma leads him on. We’re a team. We’ll get rid of him once and for all this way.

“Oh yes, yes, of course, dearie,” she says, “Go right ahead—the heartbeat—of course.”

Delighted and humming “Frère Jacques,” Poppy skips into the kitchen to fill an empty Folgers can with water for the flowers. I hear him place it carefully on top of our Ivers and Pond Piano across the room. Meanwhile, Momma lies with her back on the couch. To maximize leverage and impact, I flip onto my back, too. Spacing the soles of my feet evenly on the roof of Momma’s placenta, I bend my knees right-side up against my chest. Momma lifts her maternity blouse. Poppy lowers his ear to her stomach and listens. With the thrust of a wild horse, I kick with both feet. As he hits the floor, the house trembles. Momma holds back the laughter.

“Fuck-wad,” I think. “Tool.”

Momma is grateful, but he comes back for more. Impressed with his stupidity, I kick again. This time he sails through the air across the room.

“Honey, will you please bring me a fresh piece of huckleberry pie?”

Poppy thinks over Momma’s request. Disoriented and baffled, my needle-drop ears hear his calloused fingertips scrape his whiskers. On his feet again, he limps in a noisy, lopsided gait toward the kitchen. Cutting Momma a slice, he returns.

“Thank you, love,” she says. Satisfied, Momma eats and hums, stuffs her mouth, chews and wiggles her toes. Then percussive keyboard jabs fill my ears. Over and over, Poppy sledgehammers the F-sharp, G-sharp, and A-sharp in the lower register of the piano with his fist. Is it Cowell or Ives? It’s neither. It’s a pentatonic cluster-fuck of drunken rage. When he’s finally done, I hear his footsteps walk across our oak floor toward the front door. Poppy is gone.

I n t o  L a b o r

As Momma pushes me into the world, the sound of her voice is horrifying; she’s in pain. Alarmed, my groin’s half hitch squeezes my belly to the back of my throat. My heart sinks to my toes. A red warning light stammers in the dark behind my eyes. I’m frightened and hold on for dear life. It’s the 60’s and I don’t want to go out there.

For pain, Doc injects Momma with morphine. As the drug takes hold, her opiate-tainted blood reaches mine. Its wondrous warmth fortifies my senses. I tumble into a state of ease, a safe and perpetual present. I hear protesters on the street singing their anthems for freedom and peace. Their songs take on a new, meaningful significance, a perfect counterpoint to the drug’s euphoric properties. I start to relax. My heart pumps with inspiration. I make a fist and raise my arm. “Right On!” I want to say, but not yet; It’s too soon. As Momma’s labor continues, her womb turns into a sea of brilliance. As if under a black light, electric flowers appear on the ceiling of my quarters. Petals of pink, purple and gold shine and pulsate to the beat of the music. I start to let go. I see a reflection of my own face in the rhythm of the flowers’ luminescence. “What a handsome devil!” Tipsy, my confidence soars. I make a fist again to flex the muscle in my right arm just to watch it rise. Bolstered with courage, I am born.

By the time I first see the light, Doc already has me. He flips me upside down, holds me by the ankles, cuts the cord and hits me. I try to hit him back, but my arms are too short. The best I can do is box the air. My uppercut is coming along, but not very well; my right hook is pathetic. Water pours from my eyes. Screaming, I hear my voice for the first time. Four individuals below me watch as I’m turned right side up. They laugh at my rubber dolly, my marble pouch and rear end. I can’t hack it.

“The lights, the lights!” Momma screams from the hospital bed, pointing at the overheads, “Turn out the lights!”

She knows I’m angry. I don’t like being seen this way. I’m taken to the sink and scrubbed. The sound of water soothes my ears. As I’m carried back, I dive from the nurse’s arms headfirst into Momma’s brush and vine, the Bermuda Triangle. I want to feel her comfort, her warmth, and her buoyant waters one last time. But Doc catches me by the toe, pulls me back, and places me carefully into the curl of Momma’s arm. She pats me on the back and pulls me closer. Parched, I drink Momma’s milk.

Chad Crumm is a sound engineer, producer, musician and writer. He lives in New Orleans and is finishing up his first novel.