Birth

Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash

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Birth


.                                         For my grandmother


She walked to the door: small, viscous steps. IMG_0455
The apron tightened over her swollen
belly. She called the virgin’s tender name
and it came out as a howl. Her husband
was milking the cow in the barn. He cursed
the cow for kicking the pail, cursed
the pail and his wife for scaring the beast.
The shriek pierced the darkness under the eaves
where a meager bulb dangled from a wire.
He ran to the house to find her fallen
across the threshold, a black pool spreading
around her skirts, catching the white
of his eyes, the white of his clenched teeth.

Morning came unannounced. A dead sun
hung limp in the sky. She climbed back
into bed, pulled the blankets under her chin.
The bed lurched like a wagon clattering down
a rutted road. Ashes kept falling from the ceiling.
She clenched her shaking hands, watched
the shadows of skeleton branches on the wall.
Her husband’s shoulders filled the window.
He stood there for a moment, looking in, spat
on the ground, went back to his business.
He knew they had been boys, he had asked.

They could have grown up to beat
their wives, wage wars against neighbors.
They could have hated her weakness, her tears.
They could have followed their father
into the fields, baling the hay, leading the cows
to pasture. Ignorant cows. So much time
spent with those cows, so little with her.
Tired, hungry, at odds with themselves
and their parents, her boys could have come
home at night and let her clean, warm hands
rest for a moment on their wide shoulders.

.

First published in Poetry South, Issue 11, 2019 (print edition only)

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