Stirring : A Literary Collection

Cleopatra Mathis



All through her babyhood
I made her sickness mine,
breathing in her hot breath,
fever pushing
the thermometer's red vein.
One long night, I saved her,
climbed with her
into the shock of the cold bath.
On her year-old face, stillness
reigned, more terrifying

than when she screamed.  By three
she'd found her own dark way
down the hallway to the toilet.
Divorce, daycare, the train
of sitters.  What was that name
she yelled in her sleep; where was I
driving, running; where, on what road?
I sent her to bed, I let her cry.
I said no.  I let her climb

to the topmost slide in the park
of rides.  All children under six must be
accompanied, the plain sign read.
Afraid of heights, I watched her,
step by step, unwavering, until she turned
and laid the white sheepskin down,
while the wind pulled her braids out straight
and rattled the old tin slide.  In the high air,
precise, she gave a push
and plummeted down.


Anger, bitterness, grief:
a door slammed closed
in her old pink room.  Every spirit
has its map.  Watching her sleep,
I sit for hours, propped against her wall,
searching for clues in a new I Spy.
As if the danger lay in objects.
But whatever she has hidden
is in her head: I can't find the way
to lead this craziness home.

Slice my arm with a paperclip?
Dig roads to veins in the elbow's bend?
Who could follow
through that wilderness.
The last time we found
a small clearing, we sat with her,
doctor and concerned family
in our circling chairs--where, terrified,
we watched her take her wrist apart
with nothing but one finger's nail.

From "What to Tip the Boatman?"
(Sheep Meadow Press)

Date of Birth: 8/16/47
Location: Hanover, New Hampshire
Publications: Poetry, The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, TriQuarterly, The Yale Review, American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, etc, and many anthologies and textbooks
Awards: National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Peter Lavin Award from the Academy of Am. Poets, a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., and the Robert Frost Award

Stirring : A Literary Collection

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