It Is/It Was/It Will

A baby is a composition the body knows how to create. And destroy. My baby—found and then lost.

I know I should resist the aspen trees. The elevation on the Colorado plains is too low. Below 7,400 feet they’re vulnerable to all the things that can kill them. Still I plant two. I hold their heart-shaped leaves against my palm just to feel the softness. I study the veins of their stems and watch them grow.

They say that miscarriage is an adaptation of the body, a function of a machine working as it should.

The twin aspens grow in our yard like limbs that could endlessly stretch higher and higher. They double in size, triple, until they cast shadows on my shoulders, outgrowing my partner. I calculate how tall they’ll stand after one year. Where will they be in two, three, four?

I tell people about the miscarriage out of duty—friends, strangers. Something that happens to so many, so regularly, so painfully should not have to be whispered.

Aspens would rather grow on a mountainside, bowing against alpine wind in crescent arcs, then standing up again. But I made them grow for me and I knew they’d be at risk. Single aspens don’t live long. Still the colonies they create can survive for centuries, a network of roots and rhizomes stretching underground, sending each other messages for when to rise.

Of course, that’s how it works. Of course. We try to make someone again. Still, sometimes I think, how can this be?

In May, I turn my back and the dog gnaws an aspen trunk in half like it is dried wood. It’s no wider than my finger. We tape it, support it, stroke its papery bark. I think maybe I could hold this broken tree in my hands until it returns to itself–stands up and stretches its arms in all directions. But I can’t and it won’t.

They say the early movements of a fetus feel like pop rocks. Like exploding kernels of corn, like butterfly wings flapping. I think it feels like gas. Like a tumor that can swim.

My hope—that the aspen saplings found each other under the dirt and had time to create something together, even when we didn’t do enough to protect them. That the tree will die but its roots will live. One day we’ll see a shoot of green push through the soil and grow into the brutal world it wasn’t meant for but can survive anyway.

At a yoga class for pregnant women the teacher asks a woman if this is her first. She says, “First child, second pregnancy.” I tell myself that next time I’ll say the same.


Danielle Harms
Danielle Harms writes from Denver, Colorado, where she works in higher education. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The Offing, New South Journal, and The Baltimore Review. She has called Wisconsin, D.C., Hungary, and South Korea home. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at George Mason University, where she was the editor of Phoebe: A Journal of Literature and Art. Find her online at