This week we are proud to feature “Twelve Red Seeds” by Maria Hummel. The poem is published in our current issue, TMR 33:4. Maria Hummel is the author of the novelWilderness Run (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) and recent poetry, fiction, and nonfiction in Poetry, New England Review, the Iowa Review, Creative Nonfiction and elsewhere. For many years she worked as the writer/editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and she is now a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and son.
While I was pregnant with my son, I became fascinated with myth of the changeling: the baby who gets replaced by a fairy child. Like all myths, the changeling exists to acknowledge some dark fear, perhaps that your healthy infant will suddenly fall ill, or perhaps something even more primal — that you can never fully control what happens to your children.
At eight months old, my son contracted a chronic gastrointestinal illness that causes thousands of ulcers throughout his digestive tract. By then, I had already written ‘Changeling,’ ‘What to Say’ and ‘White Houses.’ Somehow my subconscious had begun brewing on the issues that would shape our lives together. Blood transfusions, dozens of medications, and months on the pediatric ward led to ‘Long Hospital’ and ‘Twelve Red Seeds,’ each of them, in their own way, exploring how mythmaking originates with human suffering.
Twelve Red Seeds
Twelve red stains
on the sidewalk. Twelve suns
at the edge of a picture,
each colored the wrong bright shade.
Something will come to lick them up:
the earthworm dying on its way
to the garden, a sluggish
skunk, the soapy brush of a mother
who does not want her son to ask
whose or why. Briefly, she wonders
if the blood is hers.
She has a hole in her side
she probes when no one is looking
to feel if it still pains her. It does. It will
not heal. It will not kill her.
Her boy is beautiful and ill.
She can no longer see the days
when she washed his body
and thought it perfect, gossamer,
his small fist closing
around the root of her finger
in an unbreakable ring.
Yet she wants to teach him
so many things: Look at these Os
blurred to blots, these tears
of the sad, red giant!
Look at these stars, starry nights, star pins, star fish.