From the Nursery
After a while, I stopped asking whether my child would survive,
although everything I asked in its stead
could be heard as this question.
Her body, not ready for the bare earth,
and like a nude soul, suffered each thing
with an intuition impossibly more acute
than what her body could carry out
I must have seemed, at times, almost unconcerned
by what the clinicians said—
each small, survivable diagnosis touched me only as the sleeve
of a passing stranger.
When I looked up from her hospital crib
to see the wider world, could I help it
if I saw a war?
I can sense you are poised to accuse me now
of that sentimental watershed we call new motherhood:
Because my child was threatened, I too quickly conclude
from my single-mindedness that no one should be threatened,
that we shouldn’t kill those asleep in their bedclothes
somewhere we haven’t heard of, somewhere
foreign, a desert—an infant, a mother, many cousins.
I concede, it was an emotional time.
I felt I had been dropped from a considerable height
where the future remained, as it always had been,
stridently unknown; it was simply the pitch that had changed.
Now I look out from the nursery window—
first a birch tree, then rowhomes, the city, the country, the world—
still the war widens, wide as a prehistoric mouth,
wide as desperate slander.
If you wish, call me what the postpartum have long been called:
tired mother, overprotective bear,
a body made sensitive
to the scent of fire or fume,
just as your mother would have been
when you were born, you who are alive
to read this now.
Copyright © 2014 Katie Ford. Reprinted from Blood Lyrics, published by Graywolf Press, with the permission of the author and Graywolf Press.
Katie Ford is the author of Deposition and Colosseum, which was named a “Best Book of 2008” by Publishers Weekly and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Her poetry has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Poetry, and Poetry International. She has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Levis Reading Prize. She teaches in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, and lives with the writer Josh Emmons and their daughter.
Curator’s Notes: Reading Katie Ford has often felt for me like a conversation—lovely, lyric—in which, while diction & unexpected swells of sound distract, she leans in to tell me, ever so gently, that my body is on fire. Steady & unforgiving, Ford’s line is built with some inscrutable core: the poet reliably anticipates the rhetorical maneuvering of her reader & outpaces her every time. Indeed, much of the dark pleasure in reading “From the Nursery” is that the poem remains always a step ahead, knowing when to punch toward the gut & when to quietly motion toward the flames. Few poets wrestle the enormity & efficiency of being alive while also being awake to the world. Ford not only wrestles, she wins—and this poem is made better only by the poems that precede it in Blood Lyrics.