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At the Museum of Childhood, Bethanel Green, London

Baby’s Cradle, Europe c. 1810

A separate bed prevented babies being accidentally smothered by a parent—

The wicker cradle could not hold the baby but it was just the right weight for torn bits of lace, a handful of sequins, a single loop of thread. The baby could sleep in the icebox, the wooden chest down in the kitchen. Its top flips open to silver like a grinning mouth. The baby would be cold and quiet.

with no secure mechanism to prevent over-rocking, babies often fell out on to the floor or worse still into a nearby fireplace

 

Baby’s Feeding Bottle, c. 1850

All black metal.

You cannot see inside, all darkness.
You are the mother.

You could fill the bottle with milk or fill it with opium
to calm a child.

 

Breast Pump, 1905

From breast to bottle—
I imagine the black tub snaking.

The pump’s sucking grasping
suction funnel and relieving chamber.

Studying it, my nipples sting in memory.
I want to put the globe of blown glass in my mouth.

 

Coral Rattle, 1650

The rattle on a silver pink beach.

Lozenges of yellow light on the sea.

Sand sagging the toddler’s pull up.

Hurt me, my daughter says knowing nothing.

about hurt while the sea hisses and spits at the shoreline.

Coral will stop gums bleeding. Coral will quit the crying.

 

Pap Bowls, 1830-1850

Baby’s first food, bread or flour boiled with milk to make it soppy, soggy, to turn it into syllables stuffed in an infant’s mouth to shut her up—

 

Swaddling Band, France, 18th Century

After her birth, the nurses show me how to wrap the baby in her flannel,
how to bind her tightly, how to turn her back into an object I can keep.

 

 

 

Nicole Cooley grew up in New Orleans and now lives outside of NYC. She has published four books of poems, most recently Breach (LSU Press) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books), both in 2010, and a novel. Her work has appeared most recently in The Rumpus, Drunken Boat, and the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day. She is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College-City University of New York.

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