Back to Issue Twenty.

Darwin’s mother



He lolled on her belly like
a piglet on a sow, his skin
caked in white paste.

A draught lifted her
ruffled collar, and Darwin’s
mother’s memory of pain

was just now seeping
out of her. He was taken away
and then, in a moment,

placed back in her lap, prim
and dry. Newly civilized
in lace and linen. Darwin’s

mother recoiled in sullied
silk and ribbon when she first
saw his face: In a way, he was

already a man, therefore
discomfited by the smell
of her good clean blood.


In God who formed one body
after another in my middle

like the red speck growing in a yolk
to fill the egg with feathers
and folded bones
lies perfection.

And in the fragile egg, its shell
weak and broken open
like chips of sky, fine pottery,

breathes a red and fluttering clot
prone to illness and sin.

Like God, I give birth to men
so they might build a church
and a government over me,
making it easy for me
to become

transparent, a strip of gauze
hung over a side chair or pinned up
in the chapel or garden
so the silhouettes of columbines
will show through my skin.


The door at the top of the stair,
a black velvet gown,
her curiously constructed

work-table, death-bed –
these are all of what
I remember of my eighth year,

since after my sisters’ grief
placed coins on our lips,
her name disappeared.

Sarah Rose Nordgren is the author of Best Bones, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize (2014), and Darwin’s Mother, which is forthcoming from University of Pittsburgh Press in fall 2017. Her poems and essays appear widely in journals such as Agni, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review Online, Copper Nickel, and American Poetry Review, and she creates intergenre video and text art in collaboration with Kathleen Kelley under the name Smart Snow. Native to North Carolina, Nordgren is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati and an Associate Editor at 32 Poems. 

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