Poem of the Week | September 08, 2014

This week we’re delighted to offer a new poem by Eleanor Stanford. Stanford is the author of two books of poems The Book of Sleep and Bartram’s Garden (forthcoming), both from Carnegie Mellon University Press, and a memoir História, História: Two Years in the Cape Verde Islands (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography). Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, The Harvard Review, The Iowa Review, and many others. She lives in the Philadelphia area, and is a 2014-2015 Fulbright scholar to Brazil.
Author’s note:

“Solitary Sandpiper (Totanus solitarius)” is from a series of poems that reflect upon the life of the remarkable eighteenth century naturalist Martha Maxwell. My poems take their titles from specimens she killed, stuffed, and mounted herself, and use both Maxwell’s biography and in this case ornithological detail as a lens through which to view my own contemporary experiences of motherhood.
Maxwell left her young daughter in Wisconsin in 1860 with family for several years, while she traveled to Colorado to pursue her work as a hunter and naturalist and a pioneer in the field of modern taxidermy.
While my own work has never led me to leave my children for an extended period of time, I wrote “Solitary Sandpiper” while on a brief writing residency in Miami, where I did ponder the conflicting feelings of guilt and freedom that I think many mothers struggle with when it comes to their professional lives.


Solitary Sandpiper (Totanus solitarius)


The mother who leaves her young makes
an easy target.


Her lower throat


Her eye ringed white
in sharp relief.


Tonight at the hotel bar, I ate my spider roll
alone, watching the rain pummel
the palms along the promenade.


My mind a shallow backwater,
unruffled tidal inlet.


My bind, my sling, my contradiction.


The bird’s flight is buoyant and direct.


But upon landing, she keeps her pinions
briefly raised, as though to comfort
the absent babe in her dark