Weekly Poem: 'Ward'

Karen Holmberg's first book, "The Perseids," won the Vassar Miller Prize and was published by the University of North Texas Press; her second book, "Axis Mundi," won the John Ciardi Prize and was published by BkMk Press earlier this year. She is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Oregon State University.

By Karen Holmberg

When the East is gold leaf beaten so thin the sky's pale violet shows through, I go to my garden to check the progress of its labors. The peony's fist has widened its fissure in earth. I stoop to assist, unkinking its wrist, unfolding the wad of maroon tissues snipped with half-moons, triangles, and blades. Partly in pity, in part for relief, the world gave me two daughters to distract me from my own death dread, that I might relax my hold on her, the way you give a baby the transparent nipple, the vinyl infant to mother. When the nurse handed me my first, I kissed the lip curled in a sob of dismay, already possessed. Then I rolled back the sleeve of her gown and saw fingers wizened from being too long in the bag of waters, unfurled the fist to find a shredded blister in her palm, slits in the whitened, drowned skin revealing tissues so thin they took their color from blood, the palm lines a crimson M as if gouged with a stick. How privileged I was in that maternity ward, able to believe the distance of her death, that I could keep for life what had entered the world through my body's gates. That it would never be my temple and cheek grinding the sand, my teeth bared in agony near the small hand, the palm still enfolding loosely the stripped twig, the skin of the fingers livid, abraded, taken to great age in a single day by the mother who gives to us, and gives to us, then wrenches away what we love in her vast wave.

Karen Holmberg
Karen Holmberg's first book, "The Perseids," won the Vassar Miller Prize and was published by the University of North Texas Press; her second book, "Axis Mundi," won the John Ciardi Prize and was published by BkMk Press earlier this year. She is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Oregon State University.