The Wild Swans
Carrying my son on my back
I pick us through community gardens
into foot paths—archeologies
of broken bottles skirt shores
littered with geese leavings leading
to a lake where a clique of swans
eyes us resentfully. I count them
aloud as if from a picture book,
reducing each one to a number;
his gaze flits with the wind
in the elms’ high boughs whose fire
is stirring the end of the season
while I wonder about the myths,
the floating pale and muscular
forms, aloof and beautiless.
Max Roland Ekstrom holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. His poetry appears in such journals as The Hollins Critic, Hubbuband The Comstock Review,and is anthologized in Except for Love: New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall. Max lives in Vermont with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter @ekstrom or at maxekstrom.com.
“Look for the baby’s grave,” my husband says. “There’s a lamb on the top of the headstone.”
We are searching for his parents who are buried in Union Cemetery in a small borough of the Lehigh Valley. The graveyard slopes and curves along gentle rises. Sunlight curls through eastern hemlocks and sugar maples and licks at the tombstones.
We haven’t seen their graves in nearly two decades. We can’t remember where they are.
Focused on sighting the stone lamb of the baby’s grave, I almost step on the carcass of a fox. The ground where it lies is depressed and soft. A perfect nest as the earth reclaims it. Some of its fur remains, white wisps like fine yarn threading through the pelvis. Its jaw and teeth are intact, like it died snarling, resisting the instinct to lie down and die.
My mother-in-law, whose grave we cannot find, kept a photograph of her stillborn baby dressed in a satin burial gown inside a satin-lined coffin. Once, I saw her lift the photo from inside her Pennsylvania blanket chest, look at it and sigh, then bury her feelings as she returned the snapshot and closed the lid.
We find the stone lamb atop the tombstone and stand in silence at the three graves. I wonder how my mother-in-law endured the sorrow of carrying and birthing a dead child. Do you ever get over the weight of holding a stillborn infant? The despair of buying a baby-sized casket? The exhaustion of a funeral?
The torch of grief that blazed her heart now lives with us. My husband keeps the photo now, locked away in a secret place, along with the memory of his mother often opening her chest to look at the photo of her child who never breathed outside the womb. A black and white snapshot of an infant nested in white. His little coffin, like a suitcase, packed just below our feet.
Marianne Worthington is co-founder and poetry editor of Still: The Journal, an online literary magazine publishing literary, visual, and musical artists with ties to Appalachia since 2009. Her work has appeared in Oxford American, CALYX, Cheap Pop, and Reckon Review, among other places. Her poetry collection, The Girl Singer, is forthcoming from University Press of Kentucky, 2022. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and lives, writes, and teaches in southeast Kentucky. She’s on Twitter @m__worthington.
as if we never were
no photographs of us / no friends in common
no gifts / no letters pressed in books
no public words
just bits of binary / floating fragments
of loving litter / circling cyberspace
like flockless birds
and if i die / no-one will think to tell you
and if you die / no-one will let me know
a meteor could strike / the sun could flare
the poles could flip / the vacuum collapse
a bomb go off / a black hole pass too close
Doomsday could come and go / and i’d be unaware.
Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic based in Glasgow, UK. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Ink Sweat & Tears, perhappened, Dust Poetry Magazine, Capsule Stories, Twist in Time, The Winnow, Marble, IceFloe Press, Dodging the Rain, One Hand Clapping, Crow and Cross Keys, Eye Flash Poetry, Janus Literary, Green Ink, and The Mark Literary Review. Her debut collection will be published by Indigo Dreams Press in 2021. She is assistant editor of 192 magazine and Nine Pens Press. She was Pushcart nominated in 2020. She tweets about poetry and other things @maryfordneal.