My baby was born upside down in a wholly translucent white sac. My water never broke. We inverted each other, time pulled through us, reached inside, and turned things right side out. She won't recall these early days, but they will be in her. I will collect moments so she can wade in her early self, pick them up like shells, and examine them through me. A mother knows what her child goes through even if she didn't see it herself.
Before I met my baby, I found my biological grandmother, Betsi. She first appeared to me in a pregnancy dream. In the dream, I was in labor and under anesthesia. When I woke up, my baby was gone. My mother said, “You had a twenty-six-hour labor.” They took my baby before I could see it was a girl. The day I met Betsi in person, I was bleeding from my period, shaking, and sick with fear of rejection. She hugged me and said, “You are like mother, mother was an artist.” I said, “My mother is also an artist.” Betsi is only partially here. Betsi is sun-downing. Time makes things look separate when they are not.
My adoptive grandmother, Maryrose, has a recurring dream that a man hands my mother a small mummy from a museum. She tells my mother, “Don't put it on the bed, it could leak,” then asks if it could be the stillborn baby she has been dreaming about. Before Maryrose adopted my mother, she had seven bloody miscarriages and she told the doctor she couldn't take an eighth. And when she was born, her own mother was grieving the loss of her previous baby, Maryrose's brother, who died during infancy. Maryrose was mothered through grief, became a mother through grief, and so also my mother.
Reenacting the trauma of her own adoption, my mother gave her first baby away before I was born. My father and his high school sweetheart also gave their first away. My parents bonded over their shared pain and had three children together. They kept my half-sisters a secret. Ignoring the past only intensified the past, which struck me in another time. Without explanation, I was haunted. When I discovered the details, I became a live nerve. I see myself in a nightmare driving, red leaves on a mud road like dark blood parted.
I drove the road, replaying events in my head. This is where our mom took a fast turn and our dead dog fell halfway out of his cardboard coffin onto me in the backseat of the car. We buried him in our backyard, it was winter, and animals dug him halfway up.
The unfinished network of the past, subterranean, grows stronger as a distorted mirror image, roots reaching toward the light of the next generation. I found my mother's daughter, Abby, first. She was a mirror of myself. Just the sight of her comforted me, the fact of her. She exists. I see her.
As a young girl, my grandmother-in-law, Elma, was orphaned in Finland. Her father was murdered, and her mother got sick and died. Her mother's body was put in a morgue because the ground was frozen. She was separated from her brother and sent to a girl's orphanage. She ran, heartbroken, in the snow, praying that her mother would come back for her. And she did come back. Her mother woke up in the morgue and kicked on the door until they opened it and she reclaimed her children.
I spent last night afraid, awake with my eyes hard shut, anchored by the places of ancestors' life events, seeing ghosts, and the weight of the past. The night dragged on as I turned over in a bed too small for all three of us, in a clapboard room where Elma recently spent her last moments. The last time we spoke her speech was on repeat, the same story again and again, like a song.
As things recede into the past, time obscures them. Distance sucks them pale like peaks closest to the horizon. The gravitational force of this place’s grandeur and the longevity of its rocks bends our relationship to time here. I am something so unfathomably small. Here is the fact of the place. The canyon cannot be out of time, cannot be pained by its passage. I desire that waves carry me to the time in which I belong.
Kate Ovaska is an artist, photographer, and educator who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She completed her residency at Light Work in March 2018.