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"First Things" by Rebecca Dempsey

The first thing a baby can do is cry. Stimulus response, vocalised, after that first smack. Tears, and the wordless wail. That tap. Hush now baby. Hush. The first thing a baby can do is hold on. Tiny fingers grab, look at you baby, so strong not as a skill learned, but as a delicate need, innate. Palmar Grasp Reflexes disappear, but oh baby girl that need? Need never dissipates, even if small hands fail to find reassurance to hold onto. Unlearning reaching out is to be gripped by fear, instead of a helping hand. Baby, wipe those tears. It’s to seize small comforts wherever they’re found. It’s to clasp secret hopes to a broken heart. The first thing a baby can do is react. Shhh baby, shhh, please. It’ll be all right. Startle reflexes, triggered by loud sounds or movements, disappear after two months. Don’t cry, baby. Don’t. But when slammed doors are repeated refrains? Who’s laughing now? Baby doll. Huh? Reflexes transformed, tension memories transmute into impulses, averting ire with jokes, or hiding silent, until storms pass. Hey. Baby, now’s not the time. The first thing a baby can do is breathe. The most natural thing in the world is transformed, when the world narrows and stills. Shock sets in, and then wham: the world crashes back, drumming into the body, which can’t catch up. Can you breathe with me. Baby? One breath at a time. Come on. Breathe. Movement, sound and light are doors slammed into a rabbiting heart. Uh oh baby, what’ve you done now? Stuck between first and last things.

Rebecca Dempsey’s recent works feature in Corporeal Lit Mag, Unstamatic, and Five Fleas. Rebecca lives in Melbourne / Naarm Australia and can be found at

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