Once I wanted a child. I wanted the feeling
of a child, the thought of something living
that could have its own words, its own breath,
apart from me. But I didn’t want it to be born.
I wanted to carry that body inside me
forever, a garden edging from its sheet
of snow, the dog always at the point
of coming to the call. Every day
I would touch the skin of my belly and imagine
the blood inside of it, how it was that
of a fire child, a dream child, a little animal
that would sprout horns and claws,
that if forced into the world might turn
into a spray of feathers. I stood on the hill
and stared at the dun-backed line of deer, certain
I would carry another of their kind inside me.
What kind of love was this? Strangers told me
that if I wanted such a child I should go into the garden
and put my hands on the statue of a god. The god
would give me new eyes then and a pearl tongue
with which to describe him. He would give me a child
so beautiful it would live as long as a god.
And so I walked into the garden, and prayed
before the statue, until I got everything that I desired.
That night, when I put my hands upon the statue,
I felt my belly harden. And when I walked back out
of the garden, I could feel the love I carried
stifling inside me, and I became afraid
and returned to the statue, and prayed and prayed.
But the god I prayed to was a stone god
and so he gave me a stone child.
I couldn’t suckle it from my breasts.
I couldn’t rock it in my willing arms.
And I was grieved, for the animal I thought
I would carry had run away in the night like a dream.
Now I’d woken to a word I thought would be forgotten
and that word was dead.
What is the love that can follow this word?
I walk into the stone garden at night.
And there are many children there, the same shape
and color as mine, but I don’t have names for them.
Strangers tell me that my face is like a bird
that has flown away. They tell me
to go back to the garden and continue praying.
I didn’t know that stone could marry hope.
Now I am a pouch of mist, a fist of feathers.
Once, I wanted a child. But now,
when I touch the god’s cold face at night, I pray
never to have known that feeling.
“The Stone Child” originally appeared in the Spring & Summer 2010 issue of Poetry Northwest.
Paisley Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee, the hybrid-genre photo-text memoir Intimate, and four books of poetry: A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, The Invention of the Kaleidoscope and Animal Eye, which was a finalist for the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Prize and winner of the UNT Rilke Prize. Her newest book of poems is Imaginary Vessels, and a book-length essay, The Broken Country: On Trauma, a Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam is forthcoming in 2017. Her work has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Civitella Ranieri Residency, an NEA Fellowship, Pushcart Prizes, the 2016 AWP Nonfiction Prize, and various state arts council awards. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New Republic, Tin House, the Best American Poetry series (2012, 2013, and 2017), and on National Public Radio among others. She teaches at the University of Utah, where she is also the creator and editor of the community web project Mapping Salt Lake City. In May 2017, she was named Utah’s Poet Laureate.
Image by Brooke Cagle