In the dissolve of the ordinary—kitchen sink,
corralled line at the bank—I reach for myself
like a mother whose arm pushes back
her child-passenger at the stoplight or
I reach like a child carelessly
smoothing the silk of her mother’s
skirt while reciting bits of song.
Automated phone call, another stripe
of ants across the floor,
I do not think to do this but suddenly
realize I have been holding my shoulders
my face my throat O the throat so wants
to be held in a little cup of blue light.
The body with its aches and silences,
who can understand it?
Mostly the holding does little, but still
better than not. And sometimes it is the only
kind thing I can do. I often wish I were
kinder. That’s a hard one. Or maybe
less hard than it seems. Once I slept
in a tent in a field I thought was vacant
as a man I thought I loved tried to hold me.
The body and all its mistakes, the however
did I end up here filling the damp dome of canvas.
In the night, a cloud of wild horses came thundering
toward. I heard them through my body against
the ground from a great distance and then
so close as they skimmed the tent they nearly
trampled us and I held the sound gaining
and breaking, I laid down into it,
dug my fingers into the earth
as they rode the night, I knew their bodies
were waves and terror and distance,
though I never saw them. I knew
that the soul is a little bottle rocket
even when it seems a mistake
stuffed into a cheap coin purse,
and that a mistake is often a porthole
from which one can peer
to make out the shape of any approaching light.
I held my forehead when my thoughts felt too dark
to bear, I held my womb the years I could not
have a baby, I held my mouth
when I could not easily speak in a room.
And just once when I held my heart—
again my hands reaching for the thin pulse
to ease it, make certain it was there—
wet thump-wet thump, just once
it felt like that. Over the field my heart
came rushing, toward me and from me
without regard for the rest of the being,
and now, each time since,
I hold it to remember
that marvelous ruin of praise.
Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three poetry collections: Little Spells (New Issues Press, 2015), How to Live on Bread and Music, which received the James Laughlin Award, the Perugia Press Prize and a nomination for the Poets’ Prize, and Salt Memory. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, her poems have recently appeared in The Adroit Journal, American Poetry Review, The Awl, Cimarron Review, Crab Orchard, Kenyon Review Online, Love’s Executive Order, Mid-American Review, New American Writing, Stirring, Terrain, Thrush, and Verse Daily.