In Sorrow Thou Shalt Bring Forth Children but still we called you forth Alicia Jo Rabins, “Babies in the Apocalypse” i. It was like this: an unearthly wind overtook me, knocked down a stand of trees, broke open a bright blue space in the woods of myself. Or call the wideness violet, something warm and future, a color more like the inner reaches of the body. I woke from myself, cupped within sorrow’s hands. In that blood-light, I was a sudden nebula of desire. ii. From inside its fog, I tried to describe this new desire. As a taste: seawater. As a sound: a woodpecker’s knocking. As if anything could live there, I put my hand to my chest and melted a sorrow-sized patch in its blue. Who would walk on this beach, with its waves always reaching to be ice? When I pulled my hand away, it held a bunch of violets. iii. I welled, swelled. I was full of hyacinths, full of African violets, full of peach blossom and peony. Sorrow and desire mixed at my roots. I was a black dirt rainforest, reaching through my own mist for passion flowers, knocking stalks of sugar cane against my shins until they were blue. Bees could have made honey just by landing on my hands. iv. The Beehive Cluster, the Honeycomb Nebula: deep space is a hand full of sweetness and sting. The light of the newest stars is ultraviolet, invisible, hot as your fingers on my palm. In astronomy, a blue- shifted body is one borne toward the observer. Like desire, but volition-less, less human. I thought your arrival would knock all the sorrow from me instead of increasing its reach. v. I have eaten blueberries beyond blue. I have reached, thirsty, into thicket after thicket, scooping saltwater hand- fuls to my mouth. Miraculous, sorrowful fruit. The world knocks but I am locking all the doors. I am devouring the sugared violet, the blackberry fool. I am trying to forget their richness, my desire a fruit I will someday need to turn away from, my mouth still blue. vi. This would be sorrow: to say no. It is autumn. There are still blue- birds, but few. The dew point is high but falling. Soon we will reach the last warm day. I am teaching you something about desire without wanting to. I have you listen for the woodpecker, the hands of the clock ticking past fullness. I point to the sky that is violet, then less violet, then black. In the darkness, the knocking of my heart is bright blue, a color I cannot uncouple from desire. Here you knock. Here your sunlit hand reaches, points at my flowering sorrow. Look, you say. A violet.
The Empty Universe The stars pull away from each other the stars pull the sky apart or everything comes apart and the stars expand into what that means there is only free falling in space there are many small gravities we are only ever falling into the orbit of the nearest body for months my hands have been falling away from my heart which must no longer have the mass to attract them sometimes I find my feet in the other room every morning they are more and more numb I almost wrote number but their deadness is not quantifiable all my failures are similarly intangible but constant: dark dependable ingredients to build a universe around I cannot keep my body together I cannot, this night, stop myself from listening to my daughter wail and wishing she were less like herself therefore less like me even though the space between us has only grown since she appeared her body falling toward the surgeon’s stronger hands, my own body suddenly ninety-five percent of its former mass and dropping until it reaches this night where I feed the heels of my hands into the black holes of my eyes until they are shredded brightly into a web of plasma the most generous form of matter in the universe the least like me, who pushes her hands deeper and deeper into her eyes’ sea until it blooms with blue-green algae swarms of fireworms swimming through a darkness that is never fully dark a silence that is never fully silent the curtain of the universe falls between us a gray stutter that touches my face through my hands like rain through a cloth here here it says and my legs, my heels, my thighs hear and return from their far dimensions which I do not deserve just as I do not deserve to be the signal my daughter’s voice homes on the skin she finally hushes against here here is the grace we suffer the empty universe for
Claire Wahmanholm is the author of Wilder (Milkweed Editions 2018), Redmouth (Tinderbox Editions 2019), and the forthcoming Meltwater (Milkweed Editions 2023). Her work has most recently appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Blackbird, Washington Square Review, Good River Review, Descant, Copper Nickel, Beloit Poetry Journal, Grist, and RHINO. She is a 2020-2021 McKnight Fellow, and lives in the Twin Cities. Find her online at clairewahmanholm.com