Claudia Emerson

(13 January 1957 / Chatham, Virginia)


Poem by Claudia Emerson

The household sells in a morning, but when

they cannot let the house itself go for

the near-nothing it brings at auction,

the children, all beyond their middle years,

carry her back to it, the mortgage now

a dead pledge of patience. Almost emptied,

there is little evidence that she ever

lived in it: a rented hospital bed

in the kitchen where the breakfast table

stood, a borrowed coffee pot, chair,

a cot for the daughter she knows, and then does not.

But the world seems almost right, the near-

familiar curtainless windows, the room

neat, shadow-severed, her body’s thinness,

like her gown’s, a comfort now. Perhaps

she thinks it death and the place a lesser

heaven, the hereafter a bed, the night

to herself, rain percussive in the gutters—

enough. But like hers, the light sleep of spring

has worsened—forsythia blooming

in what should be deep winter outside

the window—until it resembles the shallow

sleep of a house with a newborn in it,

a middle child she never saw, a boy

who lived not one whole day (an afternoon?

an evening?) sixty years ago in late

August. And as though born without a mouth,

like a summer moth, he never suckled

and was buried without a name. She had waked to that—

that cusp of summer, crape myrtles’ clotted

blooms languishing, anemic, the cicadas

exuberant as they have always been

in their clumsy dying.

This middle-born

is now the nearer, no, the only child.

The undertaker’s wife has not bathed

and dressed him; the first day’s night instead

has passed, quickening into another

day, and another, and he is again awake,

his fist gripping a spindle of turned light,

and he is ravenous in his cradle of air.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, March 21, 2012