Back to Issue Twenty.

“WHERE i am going” / “i dare to live”



Lucille Clifton / Anne Sexton

I can’t say grief lived there because nothing ever did.
Its purpose seemed to be to wait, and, like me,
to contain its waiting. When the priests
called Rachel, Sarah, and Elizabeth barren, I could
think only of cathedrals and railway stations, specifically dust
swirling in tunnels of light, the clockwork
sounds of wings and footsteps. When I studied
the ancient practice ostraka, I smashed an empty
flower pot, wrote my brother’s name in magic marker on a shard,
exiled him from the empire. To my surprise,
he cried. I’d forgotten what it was I felt—I needed
to see. Outside had taken me
in. I loved it not
for its vastness but minutiae,
which I observed with the attention of one who is not herself
observed and cannot bear to be.
Mica in the pavement, larva in the rose. I fetishized
the sea monkey, diorama, created little worlds of
rules: if you see wind holes in the cedars
on one side, you miss sparrows nesting
on the other, and if you leave the utility lines out of your
picture, you’re not being
honest. Be honest: when I first saw real wallflowers
spangle at the preserve in their tiny deer-proof cages, I became
breathless: to be singled out, protected—
We girls saved our cigarette ashes to fade our Levis with.
We crisped our hair with curling wands.
We always smelled like smoke, playing
as we did with fire, like Bovary or Butterfly without beauty
or the babies. One friend, a nurse now,
sent video of Johnny Depp on a pediatric oncology ward.
He visited, as Captain Jack Sparrow, one patient
in particular. Piracy and stardom
had never been easier: the girl leapt into his arms.
Her silent mother was more reluctant—
she knew how to wait.
As did those barren women of the bible,
all of whose wombs were “opened” by God for acts of faith,
some giving birth well into their nineties.
Except for one.
Daughter of Saul, wife of David, who, failing them both, displeased
the Lord, and about whom it is written,
“Michal had no child to the day of her death.”


Kathy Fagan’s fifth collection of poems is Sycamore, out this month with Milkweed Editions. She is the recipient of fellowships from the NEA, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council, as well as awards such as the National Poetry Series and the Vassar Miller Prize. Recent work has appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Poetry, and The Kenyon Review. Fagan directs the Creative Writing MFA Program at The Ohio State University and serves as Series Editor of the OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Poetry Prize.

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