We are passing the bagel store
and you are strapped in your car seat.
You can’t be more than three.
Sun floods the green station wagon
and wraps us like a golden fur
this fall morning, when everything is new,
and your hands are so small.

Mama. Look at the leaves and the trees and the blue sky,
you chant, swinging your legs,
red leotards bunched at the ankles.
I drive behind sunglasses,
and in the time it takes to dart my eyes
to the rearview mirror 

and back, you ask, Mama, why do we die?
More a song you make up
than a question,
the ache to cup my mouth
upon yours, breath
apple-juice sweet,

to inoculate you,
promise you everything,
believe I am magic,
forged from cast iron,
an eternal vessel
to hold you, even when I am gone.

But I know this moment
is a thumbtack on our map,
a stain I can’t remove.
And the illusion of protection
is a charade, weightless
as it slips through my fingertips

like your silky brown hair
through a fine-tooth comb,
a first death.
Later, I will feed you lunch
in the big yellow kitchen,
your tiny fingers wrapped
around a peanut butter sandwich.