by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Ellen Bryant Voigt

There is one grief worse than any other.

When your small feverish throat clogged, and quit
I knelt beside the chair on the green rug
and shook you and shook you,
but the only sound was mine shouting you back,
the delicate curls at your temples,
the blue wool blanket,
your face blue,
your jaw clamped against remedy—

how could I put a knife to that white neck?
With you in my lap,
my hands fluttering like flags,
I bend instead over your dead weight
to administer a kiss so urgent, so ruthless,
pumping breath into your stilled body,
counting out the rhythm for how long until
the second birth, the second cry
oh Jesus that sudden noisy musical inhalation
that leaves me stunned
by your survival.

The Forces of Plenty. © W.W. Norton & Company, 1983

Ellen Bryant Voigt's picture

Ellen Bryant Voigt is the author of several collections of poetry, most recently Headwaters: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2013); Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (W. W. Norton, 2007); Shadow of Heaven (W. W. Norton, 2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; Kyrie (W. W. Norton, 1995), a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award; Two Trees (W. W. Norton, 1992); The Lotus Flowers (W. W. Norton, 1987); The Forces of Plenty (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1983); and Claiming Kin (Wesleyan University Press, 1976).

Last updated December 24, 2014