Archive, New Series, Poems

PAISLEY REKDAL The Stone Child

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