with a grille like a sharkbite
but what if the fist of his heart
should simply fall open?
I carried him safely
as long as I could,
on the dangerous highway.
I've started to pray.
But the dangerous highway
curves through blue evenings
when I hold his yielding hand
and snip his minuscule nails
with my vicious-looking scissors.
I carry him around
like an egg in a spoon,
and I remember a porcelain fawn,
a best friend's trust,
my broken faith in myself.
It's not my grace that keeps me erect
as the sidewalk clatters downhill
under my rollerskate wheels.
Sometimes I lie awake
troubled by this thought:
It's not so simple to give a child birth;
you also have to give it death,
I've always pictured my own death
as a closed door,
a black room,
a breathless leap from the mountaintop
with time to throw out my arms, lift my head,
a whole galaxy of blue.
I imagined I'd forget,
in the cessation of feeling,
while the guilt of my lifetime floated away
like a nylon nightgown,
and that I'd fall into clean, fresh forgiveness.
Ah, but the death I've given away
is more mine than the one I've kept:
from my hands the poisoned apple,
from my bow the mistletoe dart.
Then I think of Mama,
her bountiful breasts.
When I was a child, I really swear,
Mama's kisses could heal.
I remember her promise,
and whisper it over my sweet son's sleep:
From Mama's Promises, published by Louisiana State University Press. Copyright © 1985 by Marilyn Nelson.
Click on the title to go to poets.org's posting of Mama's Promise. Click on the poet's name to learn more about Marilyn Nelson.