‘Maternity’ by Britton Gildersleeve

soft cartel april 2018

At the high pond, nativity scenes of goslings,
ducklings, hatchling frogs as small and black
as mala beads. String a rosary of thin pipings,
of hopping onto an outstretched hand. This
is the song of birthing, of maternity free
from the tugging strings that hold so many of us
to earth, clip our flight paths. This is the lure
of spring, what brings women to the beds
of men who will someday catch their young
like eggs tossed lightly into the air.

Three Canadian geese twine the supple
stalks of their long necks into a kind of living
playpen, surround their single chick with
family, and hover anxiously on the periphery
of a gosling’s awkward wingspan.
While newly minted ducklings scatter
as a grey heron strides from a graceful landing.

They tumble like gold coin into the water,
four hours free from chitinous shells of
seclusion. These know their mothers, who
extend wings, necks, beaks wide in defense.
Each mother huddles with her young, the pattern
of their swirled down as individual as scent.
The frogs, no single one larger than a bead,
fill their wet lungs with air, only two days gone
from mud, where earth and water meet
I watch confusion sweep like a grey heron
over the bright surface of my mother’s eyes
clouding recognition, dulling the edges of then
until she lives within a constant windswept now.
Each day one more unravels
like the threads I pulled from a square of muslin
I coloured, then fringed for her. I was six years old.

The heron parallels the surface of the pond,
takes in its beak something dark, struggling.
A larger frog. But the seedling frogs recognise
no danger. Have no sense of family, aware
only of their own single lives.
They feel neither guilt nor fear, too new to life
to foresee its loss. I am too bruised to not.
Now she picks at the threads of her nightgown, pulling
each into the curved hollow of her palm. Her hand
full, she plucks the threads from the nest she has made.
This occupies her for an hour. In the car, she looks
calmly from the window, noting a red and white cow,
a bird floating on the Oklahoma wind. She has lost
their names, remembers only “bird,” not “hawk.”
“Cow,” not “Hereford.” Soon these too will unravel
floating on the wind like the eiderdown of yellow
ducklings, too soon to age into grief.

Britton Gildersleeve’s poetry has appeared previously in Nimrod, Passager, Spoon River, This Land Press, Futures Trading, Lincoln Underground, Atlas Poetica, and Florida Review, and other journals. She has three chapbooks: two from Pudding House, and one from Kattywompus Press. She blogs at https://teaandbreath.com.

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