Katherine Soniat’s seventh collection, Bright Stranger, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in spring 2016. The Goodbye Animals, recently received the Turtle Island Quarterly Chapbook Award and will be published by Foothills Press this December. The Poetry Council of North Carolina selected The Swing Girl (LSU Press) as Best Collection of 2011 and A Shared Life won the Iowa Poetry Prize. Work appears in World Poetry Portfolio #60, Saint Katherine Review, Hotel Amerika, storySouth, Prairie Schooner (Waterfusion),and Connotations Press. Previously on the faculty on at Hollins University and Virginia Tech, she teaches in the Great Smokies Writers Program at UNC-Asheville.
Going down for you that last time,
I still did not know your name or where
your small bones lay. This circumstance
defined you. Born-alive-but-now-dead typed
on my certification of being female, 8 lbs.
12 oz., 23 inches long. Beneath my stats
was that revelation of a sibling’s birth and
dissolution. How hurried your infant soul
had been, the whole world blundering
about, the earth at war. Wars I am kin to.
You, I went looking for: I traveled down
once, twice, but could not pry your nature
loose. Then to subterranean depths I drop
where the shades stoop by dim pools—
small ones whose patterns are not set. Pure
and between forms they glide. Infant fra-
grances that stick for a while, others topple
oddly on the ground. Candle in my hand,
I heat the blood we shared. Then there’s
my sense of you in the window of a bombed-
out house. So, look, here I am—what’s left
of the family who rose after dark. You stare
absently at me, then to the pool where flimsy
faces float, ones better known to you than me.
Gestures of Eurydice rise, a sad eye and failed curve of her smile.
She’s braille to the blind beloved. But you, my thought-form, cloud with,
Where is home? That twinge, as your arms flap loose in wonder, and
you fly past reflection. Sister-feather I am to your downy parts unnamed.
In summer, I can’t pass a well without looking for the eye of a bird.
It’s afternoon in Key West, and navy ships
anchor in the harbor. Not a gun is fired.
My mother and I look alike because we are
in matching pinafores with our names sewn on.
The world’s about us when I am four. Our
hems touch the same place on our knees.
I look at her knee, then up and wonder what
it’s like to be high as her above the sand. We
walk side by side on a back road, then I forget
the rest, but keep wondering where dead babies
end up. Somewhere on the shores of the Servern near
Annapolis, my father once said, then that he
knew no more. Tiny bones tucked in dirt by water.
But I am flying north now as any child can do. Up
the coastline over lighthouses, graveyards, and sand-
boxes on the lawns. I am on my trip away from walking
with my mother in a place called stinky fishing village. Last night
a man yelled that when I had on this dress touching my knees that were
like, or maybe were, hers. I don’t know what belongs to who or where
anybody’s going. I am happier in our mother-daughter clothes. Sort of
like being a fish out looking for others, then spotting swirls of every
fish ever—and a lost baby alive in the sand.