TBILISI

ELSA VALMIDIANO

I lost a baby two years ago, still thinking of that lost body in my body, its cells permanently shed into the lining of my stomach and lungs, while I sit in front of the Tbilisi Galleria sharing a strange concoction of beef, lamb, onions, parsley, and eggs rolled into a lumpia-like roll, during this breakfast with my husband and he doesn’t think about his lost half still lingering in my body, only that he is fighting off stomach cramps from recent food poisoning tearing him apart this morning as cramps in my uterus tore me apart two years ago, his pain coming as close to mine as it possibly could for a man, while I’m scanning the passing crowd for Zaza Pachulia, wondering if he’s come home to Tbilisi for the summer, hoping for a run-in and selfie to say we met him to prove we are oh so cool, but we don’t see him, as he’d be easy to spot at 6’11, but we keep hoping anyway, while a blond little girl with her blond parents sit beside me, the little girl, about ten, licks a dripping ice cream cone, when it’s too early for an ice cream cone, while my husband comments, “You get a lot of long looks here,” and I laugh and tell him, “It’s because I’m pretty,” when it’s because I’m brown with a white man on my arm, and passing Georgians on the sidewalk wonder where I’m from, and what am I doing with a white man, and how did we get together, and why am I here, and whether I’m a mail order bride, but then how do I speak English so well without an accent, but they don’t wonder about the lost baby, but if they do get around to talking to me and my husband, they wonder when we’ll have a baby, and whenever I’m asked that question, I feel the wince deep in my gut thinking of the lost baby, but I don’t tell them about the lost baby, as I ask myself, “Do they need to know” and “Do I need to tell them” and “Does it have to be a secret” and “Why do lost babies always have to be a secret” and “Why can’t I just mention it casually like telling someone I slipped on some rocks at Sarpi the other day and bruised my arms and legs” but it’s not that easy to expect that they’ll take the news of the lost baby all that well and they might take it awkwardly, even though perfect strangers have no qualms casually asking me and my husband about when we’ll have children, when I have huge qualms that I will make them wildly uncomfortable and speechless for mentioning the lost baby so I save them from their discomfort of not knowing what to say to me about my lost baby, and instead I immediately reply, “Not yet,” or “We’re trying,” to which they answer, “Good, you should wait because your life will be over,” as they assume I don’t know the aches and anticipated joys of carrying a tiny life, whereas the elderly woman whom we passed on the way to the Galleria, thin, delicate, slightly hunched over, etched with age lines swirling her cheeks and around her eyes, told us we were good people when I greeted her with, “Gamarjoba” while she swept her sidewalk and she reminded me of my sweet grandmother whom I spent childhood and high school afternoons with and it was a good sign as she was Lilang reincarnate, and she looked at me warmly as if she knew everything about me, that me and my husband were good people, and she didn’t look at me long and hard like other Georgians on the sidewalk in Tbilisi ordinarily do, but she looked at me like I was her granddaughter and I wanted to hug her and tell her, “I’ve missed you, Lilang,” when I remind myself why I traveled across the world in the first place to study poetry in Tbilisi, searching for respite from the stress of a legal career I never wanted and I came here to start again, that by day 5 in Tbilisi, despite the long white Georgian stares on my brown Filipina body, I remember why I traveled so far to fill the space in my body that needed a certain promise I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Philippine-born and LA-raised, ELSA VALMIDIANO is a writer and poet who calls Oakland home. Her works have appeared in various literary journals such as TAYO, make/shift, Burner, As/Us, Literature for Life, Bottlecap, Anti-Heroin Chic, Mud Season Review, Yes Poetry, Northridge Review, and Memoir Magazine, as well as various anthologies such as Field of Mirrors, Walang Hiya, Circe’s Lament, and forthcoming in Precipice and What God Is Honored Here. Elsa is an alum of the DISQUIET International Literary Program in Lisbon and Summer Literary Seminars in Tbilisi. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College and has performed numerous readings such as at Artists Against Rape, Kearny Street Workshop’s APATURE, Scriptorium, Litquake, Lark Poetry Series, and has been a poetry guest speaker and panelist at several NorCal colleges and universities. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee. She blogs regularly at slicingtomatoes.com.