Poem of the Week | February 12, 2013

This week we’re publishing a new poem by George David Clark. Clark has held the Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship in Poetry at Colgate University and is currently a Lilly Postdoctorate Fellow at Valparaiso University. This winter his poems can be found in new issues of The Believer, Cream City Review, FIELD, New South, Pleiades, Southern Poetry Review, and elsewhere. He is the editor of 32 Poems and lives in Indiana with his wife and son.

Author’s Note:

I remember the first time I saw my wife host a party. Her graciousness and pleasure at serving our guests made me want to learn how to mix interesting cocktails and to tell better jokes.

Something similar happened when we entered parenthood. It wasn’t that she changed, but certain latent aspects of my wife’s personality seemed suddenly drawn to the surface: a gentleness in her voice, an abiding patience. Watching her soothe our son those first few sleepless months, I was introduced to a new species of peace even as I came to know the labor that earned it. This poem began as an attempt to formalize both the shrill aggressiveness of an infant’s need and the tenderness with which a mother struggles to meet it.

Reveille with Lullabies

 

Our sick son cries and cries and chokes on crying
till your gown that’s pink as gums is crying

 

And your breasts cry white on small pink nipples
a sleep-tinged white that’s cut with lead

 

In the dark the windows are crying
like thumb-damped handbells made of ice

 

And down the highway’s canyon fleets of sirens
Doppler by to strobe the room in cries of blue and red

 

*

 

If the colic was a creature thirsting in your son,
then you might sate it with your own wet voice,
your milky teaspoons of song.
You might reason with it, you might coax it out
with singing, if the hurt was conscious,

 

if the colic was a creature. Thirsting in your son,
you vine a melody around him as though to leach
the coursing poison out
and make of it an ornament, a full white flower
that could lure a moth out of the night, or colic,

 

if the colic was a creature thirsting. In your son
there is a redness, this hive of crying, a tightened
writhe of insect-sizzle, sucking
on his lungs. Now have you leaned to drip a lilting
in his ears as if your son was sponge for it, or as

 

if the colic was? A creature thirsting in, your son
looks through your song the way a bird looks
through a mist-fogged mirror
at a blur of feathers, world it cannot comprehend.
You wish his ears were polished windows because

 

if the colic was a creature thirsting in your son,
then you’d want it to see you coming, watch you
pick the locks of hearing
with your nimble tongue. You’d want it to know
who’d drowned it in a pool of lambent music,

 

if the colic was a creature thirsting in your son.

 

*

 

The infant’s cries are hollow
and they’re heated and prehensile

 

They’re the beaks of red mosquitos
and they’re ten-yards long and tensile

 

The two of us are fattened ears
pinkly slapped and ringing

 

The two of us are fattened ears
distinctly chapped and stinging

 

And the infant’s cries are siphons
spurting kerosene and diesel fuel

 

And the infant’s cries are acrid
where they’re pooling in the vestibule

 

One cry flicks a match on cradles
one plucks the smallest muscles

 

One cry sacks the ports of bedding
one routs the drowsing castles

 

We’re a pair of coal-black ears
decked in gypsies’ earrings

 

We’re a pair of cold-wracked ears
with flecks of sleet adhering

 

One cry tells the gridiron’s history
one’s ground and seared like cornbread

 

One cry spins us like rotisseries
in the big white furnace of our cry-torn bed

 

*

 

Your sleep dismantled by your son’s distress,
you’ve learned to wear his crying like a mantle.
You bless and bless him and his cries cry less.

 

How spillways hold their lakes against a ceaseless
draining off, you hold him till he samples
your sleep. What’s been dismantled by distress

 

becomes a blanket to the fretful guest
inside your ease. You light him like a candle.
You bless and bless him and his cries cry less.

 

How time holds broken clocks against her breast,
her haunted sons, you hold him. And why can’t all
the sleep that’s been dismantled by distress

 

be fashioned back together? You’d make a crèche
of it. You’d make that fractured rest a temple.
You bless and bless him and his cries. Cry less,

 

Mother, ample nightlights coalesce
until a keen attention bends to handle
your sleep. Dismantled is your son’s distress.
You bless and bless him and his cries cry less.

 

*

 

Because there’s not enough rest in the world
there’s not and won’t be enough waking

 

Yet you rise when something calls you out of bed

 

The night will thresh and thresh us till the lights
light less

 

And God will press and press us till our sighs
lie pressed

 

There’s not enough blessed in the world
we wake in

 

But your whispers are vanilla
in the shape of sharpened pencils
and you write our names delicious in our ears

 

Rise and bless us till our cries cry less

 

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