Contents | January 2002

In This Issue (Contributors)

More on poetry from The Atlantic Monthly.

Also by Ellen Bryant Voigt:
Dooryard Flower (1999)
Song and Story (1992)

Related feature:
Song and Story (November 24, 1999)
An Atlantic Unbound interview with Ellen Bryant Voigt.
The Atlantic Monthly | January 2002
Three Poems

by Ellen Bryant Voigt
audioear pictureHear Ellen Bryant Voigt read "Lesson" (in RealAudio)


Whenever my mother, who taught
small children forty years,
asked a question, she
already knew the answer.
"Would you like to" meant
you would. "Shall we" was
another, and "Don't you think."
As in "Don't you think
it's time you cut your hair."

So when, in the bare room,
in the strict bed, she said,
"You want to see?" her hands
were busy at her neckline,
untying the robe, not looking
down at it, stitches
bristling where the breast
had been, but straight at me.

I did what I always did:
not weep—she never wept—
and made my face a kindly
whitewashed wall, so she
could write, again, whatever
she wanted there.

audioear pictureHear Ellen Bryant Voigt read "Practice" (in RealAudio)


To weep unbidden, to wake
at night in order to weep, to wait
for the whisker on the face of
    the clock
to twitch again, moving
the dumb day forward—

is this merely practice?
Some believe in heaven,
some in rest. We'll float,
you said. Afterward
we'll float between two worlds

five bronze beetles
stacked like spoons in one
peony blossom, drugged by lust:
if I came back as a bird
I'd remember that—

until everyone we love
is safe
is what you said.

audioear pictureHear Ellen Bryant Voigt read "The Others" (in RealAudio)

The Others

Our two children grown, now
is when I think
of the others:
                     two more times

the macrocephalic sperm battered
its blunt cell forward, rash
leap to the viscous egg—

from our marriage, earth and fire—
and what then,
                        in the open

synapse from God's finger
to Adam's hand?
                           The soul
sent back:

                our lucky
or unlucky lost, of whom
we never speak.

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Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 2002; Three Poems; Volume 289, No. 1; 93.