May Swenson

Here you will find the Poem Motherhood of poet May Swenson


She sat on a shelf, 
her breasts two bellies 
on her poked-out belly, 
on which the navel looked 
like a sucked-in mouth? 
her knees bent and apart, 
her long left arm raised, 
with the large hand knuckled 
to a bar in the ceiling? 
her right hand clamping 
the skinny infant to her chest? 
its round, pale, new, 
soft muzzle hunting 
in the brown hair for a nipple, 
its splayed, tiny hand picking 
at her naked, dirty ear. 
Twisting its little neck, 
with tortured, ecstatic eyes 
the size of lentils, it looked 
into her severe, close-set, 
solemn eyes, that beneath bald 
eyelids glared?dull lights 
in sockets of leather. 

She twitched some chin-hairs, 
with pain or pleasure, 
as the baby-mouth found and 
yanked at her nipple; 
its pink-nailed, jointless 
fingers, wandering her face, 
tangled in the tufts 
of her cliffy brows. 
She brought her big 
hand down from the bar 
with pretended exasperation 
unfastened the little hand, 
and locked it within her palm? 
while her right hand 
with snag-nailed forefinger 
and short, sharp thumb, raked 
the new orange hair 
of the infant?s skinny flank? 
and found a louse, 
which she lipped, and 
thoughtfully crisped 
between broad teeth. 
She wrinkled appreciative 
nostrils which, without a nose, 
stood open?damp holes 
above the poke of her mouth. 

She licked her lips, flicked 
her leather eyelids? 
then, suddenly flung 
up both arms and grabbed 
the bars overhead. 
The baby`s scrabbly fingers 
instantly caught the hair? 
as if there were metal rings there? 
in her long, stretched armpits. 
And, as she stately swung, 
and then proudly, more swiftly 
slung herself from corner 
to corner of her cell? 
arms longer than her round 
body, short knees bent? 
her little wild-haired, 
poke-mouthed infant hung, 
like some sort of trophy, 
or decoration, or shaggy medal? 
shaped like herself?but new, 
clean, soft and shining 
on her chest.