Welcome to “Poetry at The Arts Fuse.” A new poem every Thursday.
All my poems used to end in sky
but now they end in sleep,
not sex, which, like looking at the sky
can be a way of moving farther and farther
away from yourself before you come
back down. But sleep is a going in
or back to what you aren’t sure
you remember or ever want to see again.
When his older sister moved to her own room,
our son refused to sleep in his,
called it the room where nightmares happen.
This his first real loss, or the first he understood—
last year’s burial of the cat out back
having mainly been an occasion for song
and shoveling—but this lack
of breath and sister scent drifting down
from the upper bunk—unbearable.
His whole life, he’d never had to go alone
into the dark, and why do we do this to ourselves,
when even lightning pairs its brief ecstatic fling
with thunder? The very nature of materiality
is entanglement, says the physicist, Karen Barad.
But I was talking about sex, which,
having been raised by Catholics,
I know full well is something one must do
but not discuss, and definitely not ask for,
even on the first hot day in June,
when your husband comes in from the garden
smelling like the tomatoes he’s just planted
and sweat and dirt and whatever primitive
chemical you first scented years ago
in a dim cinderblock dorm room,
and both kids are out of the house
and there is the kitchen table bare
before you. Don’t do it! my mother said
when I was twelve and she’d just walked in
from her job as a school nurse, having read
the second positive pregnancy test
from the second thirteen-year-old that week.
End of conversation.
Then, when I was twenty-eight, married, childless,
and in grad school, she gave me silk sheets
for Christmas. Just before she died, my granny
confided that grandad had been a demon in the sheets!
I hope that made up for twenty-two years
of pregnancies and sixteen births,
not all of them live.
Barad tells us the other is not
just in one’s skin, but in one’s bones.
And I know that even after birth, traces
of the child remain within the mother—
cellular echoes tinseled in the tissue.
So when our son was afraid to be alone,
we let him back into our parent bed nest,
where, cell by cell, he’d first learned how to sleep
inside of me. But each night, after he drifted
off, you carefully lifted him back
to his own room and then returned to me,
so we could not-speak together for a little while,
before we took our separate ways to sleep.
Anna V. Q. Ross’s most recent book, Flutter, Kick, won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award from Red Hen Press and the Julia Ward Howe Award in Poetry. A Fulbright Scholar, Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow, and poetry editor for Salamander, her work appears in The Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, The Missouri Review, The Nation, and elsewhere.
Note: Hey poets! We seek submissions of excellent poetry from across the length and breadth of contemporary poetics. See submission guidelines here. The arbiter of the feature is the magazine’s poetry editor, John Mulrooney.
— Arts Fuse editor Bill Marx