Published On: Thu, 29 Dec 2011 00:00:00 -0600
You pump it from six goats
morning and evening
and renew your own. The baby
is harnessed to your back,
her dark head wobbling. Your life
and its order that isn’t mine.
I’ve come as close to you
as I can. Over the sudsy milk
I watch your hands,
the little tough spots
at the tips of your fingers.
We tell it again:
how grandma stopped eating
and spit out her mush,
how the rice fields were burning,
how you stayed in your room
with the candles and the incense
and played your guitar.
Once in our terrible anger
you struck at me wildly
and I couldn’t see. Light
was a bolt from the laser
riveting my eye. Black flakes
floated between us for a long time.
The buckets are full. I lift
your daughter from her warm pouch
into your arms
as if I were lifting you
out of my empty body.
We’re not who we are
to our mothers. Even now
in this sweet flesh
isn’t there something starting
to withdraw? The child
is reminded of herself.
She wakes to cry.
Oner goat has an udder the size
of a cow’s. The weight of that
huge sack slung beneath her
seems to be more than she can bear.
She struggles to stay on her feet,
and you tell me she’s overbred.
Some misplaced passion for cheese
or being the best.
I warm the goat milk on your stove
and think of how scared you were
to go to school for the first time,
how you wept in my arms
because you didn’t know how to read.
You thought you must know already
what you would have to learn.
The way we cry till we’re red at birth
not knowing how to live.
So perfect ourselves, wanting
to come out grander than we are,
two women trying once more
like Piranesi after fifteen years
etching his prisons again
to get them right. The great beams
are stronger than ever,
shadows are denser than before,
the space in the front left corner
that seemed to be empty
is filled with chains.
Only to see more clearly
what is there.
We stoke the Rayburn with new wood
and carry the pots of milk
out to the shed.
There is a smell of goat cheese ripening.
“Milk” from Rivers of Salt by Shirley Kaufman. Published in 1993 by Copper Canyon Press. www.coppercanyonpress.com
Source: Rivers of Salt (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)
Tags: Milk by Shirley Kaufman
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Milk by Shirley Kaufman