Back to Issue Eighteen.

portrait of my mother as the virgin queen


Above all, what I have feared is love.
I have been afraid of my body, of its weakness,
its need that feels like a pail filling slowly
with milk. I have watched kids at the teat,

how their mouths are formed to pull
every sweetness towards them, to suck
the body tired, the nipple raw and jewel-like.
Who would choose such a bitter ornament?

Who could understand a creature that gladly
admits anything that arrives at its gates?
I have put my hand to the soft stomach
of a doe, and I have heard her throat

bleating in the labor. I prefer to let the rod
do my speaking. I prefer to let them call my name.

Kara van de Graaf is a poet, teacher, and editor living in Salt Lake City, UT. Her first book, Spitting Image, won the 2016 Crab Orchard First Book Prize and is forthcoming from SIU Press. She is co-founder and editor of Lightbox Poetry, an online educational resource for poetry in the classroom, at She is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Utah Valley University.

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