Poem of the Week | July 29, 2008

This week’s poem is “Interregnum” by Christina Hutchins, which originally appeared in TMR 31:1 (2008).  Hutchins has recent poems in The New Republic, Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, Southern Review, Southern Indiana Review and Sycamore Review. She has worked as a biochemist and a Congregational (UCC) minister, and she now teaches Whitehead’s philosophy at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.  Her unpublished manuscript, Interregnum, has been a finalist for the National Poetry Series, New Issues Poetry Prize, Fordham’s Poets Out Loud, Utah State’s May Sarton Award, and the Colorado Prize.

You can listen to the author read this poem on our podcast.

“‘Interregnum’ arrived in the months preceding my father’s death in May 2005. My parents had been perpetual lovers, and as his illness progressed, I sometimes occupied an odd role: helping my father sing love songs to my mother, bringing flowers to his Alzheimer’s unit for him to give to her. In writing the poem, the possibility surfaced that I had since birth been a facilitator of their love for one another-an interregnum encompassing what had been my entire life.”


I was born wizened. Rasp of first breath,

I took the tinders of my parents’ gazes and flinted

a honeyed flame. Before knowledge of cake or wood,


before even I was plated with a name, there were

cracklings and pleasings, wetly offered smiles and gasp :

I was old.


I took my place and a heat

leapt up, not mine,

but I tended it.


Drinklings, we are born to this necessity. To help. Helpless,

we snort the atmosphere, lunge toward milk, love. Eyes clouded,

lungs dewy with night, we emerge from the close cabin rocking


to a day already underway. Once I was emperor

of a body not my own, yet I craved the broken levee.

Haven, if it is haven, gives.


The swimmer passes

her piped body toward

the sting of light.


Ever after, the tear ducts remember. There was a beach

belonged to my mother’s and my father’s Sundays. We walked there.

Sometimes I was between them, holding both their young hands.


Then she turned old and he was infirm,

rotting from within. I was the shunt of wreckage,

yellow-blue flame, versicoloured


mermaid of the rocks,


for the abyss.


One by one, I took from my fingertips the limpet shells

I had worn like small roofs over touch. I stacked them, so many

tunics on the beach. My cinder cones.


Plum-hot the anvil, lava, the volcano’s rise, ours

is a sky of yellow crumb and ash. Amorphous, still I am consuming,

yea and nay, and consumed,


but shaken loose: empress

of undertone, perilous foam,

creek in its natal dark.