Claire Wahmanholm

In Sorrow Thou Shalt Bring Forth Children

             but still we called you forth
                             Alicia Jo Rabins, “Babies in the Apocalypse”

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.
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.
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.
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. 

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.
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