From Claiming Kin

(Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1976)

All poems copyright Ellen Bryant Voigt. All rights reserved.

All volumes of Ellen Bryant Voigt's poetry are available at the Tulane University Bookstore in the University Center.

Vermont, 1889

March, when the ground softened
and the men could dig the multiple graves,
was time enough to examine the winter's losses.
But the girl from Lower Cabot--
when they opened the coffins
to match the dead to their markers,
they found the corpse in terrific disarray:
bodice torn from the throat,
face sealed in distortion, eyes
open, the coins nowhere in evidence,
and in each fist a wad of her own dark hair.


How I love you in your hopeless act.
The black wound on the skin of the pond;
the small body already stiffening:
and so you entered that dark closet of water.

But your wife on the shore 
turned away from the lost child,
chose the two live children rooted behind her
receiving the permanent visions of their sleep,
chose life,
chose to live with ice at the heart.


All evening she shifts through the house,
gathering purpose.
Everything is changed now,
she has money in her puse,
she has a weapon.
The moon, snagged in the oak,
is rising out of its black hand,
lights the bedroom.
Under that grim eye, 
the bed is luminous, refractive.
As he steps incautiously into its white field,
she will be waiting, approximating sleep:
Like the baby suspended inside her.
Like a hawk adrift in its fine solution of clouds.


Confronting frost,
the trees assume their attitudes of pain.
Who can think of the ocean?
its permanent surf, its violated sand.

She takes off her glasses,
folds them into their tapestry
envelope. After coffee,
after she straightens the kitchen,
after her TV program,
she is going to pray for the children.

Scarved and suited for autumn,
she will stand, as in the park,
where they are gathered, that each
may sail his little sin into temperate waters.

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