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O C T O B E R   1 9 9 6

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by Linda Gregerson

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Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.

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Also by Linda Gregerson:
For the Taking (1993)
Safe (1990)

Go to:
An Audible Anthology
Poetry Pages

What is, says the chorus, this human
desire --
do you know the part I'm

talking about? What is this
desire for children?

has just left the stage
said my friend, ob-

scene) to brood on her terrible work.
His ety-
mology is false, I've looked it up,

but my friend wasn't thinking
of children
in any case. What

says the mother, for all
her books,
who bathes the newborn child

in the sink, is sick
with fear
for the pulse in the scalp, the foot

still flexed as it was in the womb
and peeling
from the amnion. They have no death

in them yet, you see, their very excrement
is sweet,
they have no death but what's implied

in the porcelain rim, the drain
with its food scraps,
the outlet, the sponge, the thousand

mortal dangers in the kitchen drawer.
I'd sometimes feel,
with the child in my arms,

as I've felt looking down on the live
third rail.
What is this human desire

for children? They just make a bigger
for the anger of the gods.

The thing she can't be rid of is that
no one
would believe her. Not the uniformed

policeman at the edge of town (and surely
he knew her?
the wildest boast of the census

could scarcely have amounted to
a decent
row of pews on Christmas Eve),

nor her own forbidding father nor
good Emma
at the kitchen sink. Months later

at the jury trial,
the word
of a nine-year-old girl would suddenly

count. Late morning
on the third
of May in 1929

(the other crash was yet to come),
no seam
of comprehension in the ordered world,

no help from the mild
spring sky,
my nine-year-old mother ran at last

to the dead girl's house and de-
her burden of blight directly. Arrow

unwilling, whoever took pity
on you?
The rest replays in borrowed

light: the courtroom in Chicago with its
unswept floors,
two girls with their handsful

of violets. And one moving one way while the car
bore down
and one, my mother, the other.

For those who think, as he did once,
that in-
advertent suffering is the worst of it here,

in the range between hating thy neighbor
and destruction
on a global scale, the middle range,

where people live, the range
from the hills,
the journalist describes his con-

versation with a captured Serb.
The boy --
the man? -- was twenty-two.

I am happy, he said. He must
have been asked
what he hoped for or thought

while he lay in the high half-light with his
a sniper in the frozen hills whose

angle on the heart and hearth's acute.
I am happy,
he said, to kill a child crossing

the street with his mother.
Now something
has been altered in the transit

from language to language; this isn't
the way we speak. Offstage,

obscene, the god-from-a-machine
at work.
And circuitry whose other name

is "happy": coincident
of never-on-this-good-green-earth

and ground-from-which-we-start.
I am happy
to kill a child crossing the street with his mother.

There is something so fantastic on the mother's face.

Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; October 1996; India Cotton Shirt; Volume 278, No. 4; page 94.

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