Poetry October 2005

Prayer

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Artemis—virginal goddess of the hunt, thus
             goddess of childbirth, protector of children, to whom
                          agonized women can cry out—

was not a name I thought of, a place to send
             those sharp gasps, when you descended sideways,
                          still swimming against the narrow walls of me;

or later, after, the low moans, the mews,
             as I throbbed like something flung from a great height
                          and could not be appeased; or in between,

a keening, you by then presenting, the cord—
             the lifeline, tether, leash—lashed like a noose
                          round and round your neck by so much swimming.

I think what I said, if saying is what I did,
             was Sweet Jesus, another virgin who knew
                          the body is first and last an animal,

it eats, shits, fucks, expels the fetus—or doesn't.
             Midnight, lamplight in the barn, the farmer,
                          arm deep in the cow, turning, turning the calf;

and my father, a farmer, phoning up to ask
             what had gone wrong; he could not keep his worry out of his voice.                           Perhaps I should have prayed

to him, or to some other powerful god
             assigned to me, when you were stalled
                          inside the birth canal; and also:

when they ripped you out and cut us free.

Ellen Bryant Voigt is the author of six books of poems, including Shadow of Heaven (2002), a finalist for the National Book Award. She lives in Vermont.
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