Tara A. Elliott

The Birth

Four o’clock in the morning,
and the floor of the bathroom
where my mom led me.
Our black lab on her side, tongue
lolling out of her mouth, two small pups
already tugging at puffed-up teats,
a pale squirming sac beside her.
Watch, my mom mouthed
and the dog nudged
until the fluid-filled blister burst to reveal
a wet black mass of quaking life.
I watched as our dog licked the newborn
dry, even its hind, then the chewing
of the cord until she freed pup from self.
The eating of afterbirth—
tossing her head backward
to get all to the far recess of her throat,
and on the dog went again to panting,
breath heavy with labor
until the next sac appeared, clear,
glistening in the half-light.
Finger to her lips, my mom whispered,
I think every child should see this at least once.
She took my hand into her own,
and placing it on the new mother’s head,
we soothed her through three more deliveries.
The last one, the final pup not moving,
not breathing, not coming into life,
even with its sac broken,
and the mother so tired of prodding.
Was it dead?
Pale blue of her bathrobe ribboned with blood,
my mom scooped that runt into the palm
of her hand and swept
the inside of its toothless mouth
with the tip of her smallest finger.
A tiny sputter of liquid, the rasp of oxygen
into miniscule lungs—
and I, not knowing
in the stillness of that moment
that I was holding my own breath,
could once more breathe.