Poetry by Catherine Zickgraf
She first named her daughters when they lived
in her dolls, Jessica, Susanna, Isabella—kissing
each before sleep, holding them all to her chest
when she prayed sleepy prayers into her pillow.
Facing the wall one summer night, she relaxed her
grip in the lullaby of her breath. Dad snuck in and
pried those little ones from her protective curl then
distracted her with errands the following morning.
She sobbed when she discovered Mom sold off her
babies. And yet only five, with arms full of empty,
she knew even then they’d never come home again.
Though all spirits need mothers, some mothers lack
daughters and sleep to seek them from their dreams,
where adventuring the air by quilt, she and her three
soar over the grass and across the moon’s wide eye.
While she grew, their doll bones remained small.
So she sent their memories back to Heaven, their
souls released to rest beside their Father, Creator.
She’s blessed now with three precious sons but still
mourns her unbirthed daughters—reaching for them
as lonely winds come breathing through her fingers.
You were born into us.
You were who we were for just a minute.
A boy for my brothers, another to wrestle.
You made them tiny uncles.
A doll for my sister. She scrawled out times
I contracted that Fall—she was nine.
And I still have the paper in her third-grade handwriting
timing contractions from a clock that was ticking too fast.
I went to the hospital with you.
After two days, I left without you,
since our time together was over. . .
because you couldn’t be ours. You were born for another.
Beloved child, said your adoption announcement.
In the only photo of you and my father,
his foggy glasses slipped down his nose.
My mother. My mother, she held you first,
and a piece of her soul has guarded you since.
Six a.m., your eighteenth birthday:
I found my face in yours in a Myspace search.
And you thanked me for birthing you, though a child myself,
and for proving we love you more than ourselves.
Released now from that machine—
from knives and tubes that cleaned my insides,
purified me of maternity.
They lower me.
Elastic cement: this floor gives way.
My skull is cold. I step
off this shelf into the punctured universe
where sounds swirl down, and down I follow.
I sink, softly in this ocean.
Down andownandown where she . . .
Mommy, I say. Tie me back into you.
This growing away hurts.
You, too, released too soon what
belongs at home in your cave.
You swirled me into the atmosphere,
and I’m still breathing only water.
Expansion, the natural state of things.
Inflating cosmos, constant ballooning separation . . .
I hold little things in my hand and feel strong.
Dismembered butterfly, I count out your parts:
two arms, curly legs, sealed eyelid
the living oceans will never burst.
I count your pieces and
climb into the bleeding palm
of a puzzle I took apart.
The poles melt. Only this is real.
Rivers of truth. Only this flows true.
Murderess, this truth will rape you tonight:
(Surreal is metal. More machines.
Nurses paid to keep me alive
threaten me. I resist their task.
no big deal,
now go home.)
Catherine Zickgraf lives in Augusta, Georgia with her husband, Thomas and brown-haired boys, Joshua and Josiah, while her precious firstborn, Stephen, visits them often from college. Her writing has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, [Pank], Bartleby and Snopes, Victorian Violet Press, and others. She has performed her poetry in three dozen cities, including Madrid and San Juan, while releasing four performance albums. She hosts the weekly MAD Open Mic. Yet homeschooling her autistic youngest inspires her the most.