Claiming Kin

by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Insistent as a whistle, her voice up
the stairs pried open the blanket's
tight lid and piped me
down to the pressure cooker's steam and rattle.
In my mother's kitchen, the hot iron spit
on signal, the vacuum cleaner whined
and snuffled. Bright face
and a snazzy apron, clicking her long spoons,
how she commandeered the razzle-dazzle!

In the front room I dabbed
the company chairs with a sullen rag.
Pale lump blinking at the light,
I could hear her sing in her shiny kingdom,
the sound drifted out like a bottled message.
It was the voice of a young girl,
who stopped to gather cool moss,
forgetting the errand, spilling the cornmeal,
and cried and cried in her bearish papa's ear.

At night, while I flopped like a fish
on grandma's spool bed, up from her bed
and my wheezing father she rose to the holly,
flat-leaf and Virginia creeper.
Soft ghost, plush as a pillow,
she wove and fruited against the black hours:
red berries and running cedar, green signatures
on the table, on the mantel.

Mother, this poem is from your middle
child who, like your private second self
rising at night to wander the dark house,
grew in the shady places:
a green plant in a brass pot,
rootbound, without blossoms.

Collected Poems

Last updated March 12, 2023