And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.
     And he said:
     Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
     For they have their own thoughts.
     You may house their bodies but not their souls,
     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.

For a short time I walked the earth as a woman, breathed in the scent of gardenias and gasoline,
made love to a man. We lived in a small house with a narrow staircase leading upwards into nothing;
the second floor was never built. I fed him fresh garlic and parsley from our garden, the smell rising
to the top of the staircase where we made love, knees and ribcages bumping against the ceiling. But
my throat grew dry, my feet stuck in the dust. At night, while he slept, I walked down to the marsh
where the birds gathered to dive for fish, the water wetting my waterless lips, the gentle rocking
soothing the aches in my feet, my arms. Please, I said to the white tern bringing her six little
hatchlings bits of fish guts, you a mother who has so many children, help me a mother who has

The next morning, I woke up vomiting feathers. In a few months, my belly was round and full as a
blowfish and I felt the flutter against my ribcage. I walked down to the banks of the marsh, spread
my legs, and out she came, a pure royal tern, her white feathers beaded with blood. She was hungry
and I had nothing to give her; she would not take my milk. I waded out to find the mother bird on
the other side of the marsh. I cannot help you, she said, I have my own children to feed. So I turned
into a fish. My daughter dove, grasped me in her beak, and swallowed me whole. Now, I live within
her light body. We spend our days upon the high winds, bumping only against the sky. Now, I feed

Copyright © 2010 by Holly Karapetkova. This poem appeared in Words We Might One Day Say (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2010). Used with permission of the author.

Cell by cell the baby made herself, the cells
Made cells. That is to say
The baby is made largely of milk. Lying in her father’s arms, the little seed eyes
Moving, trying to see, smiling for us
To see, she will make a household
To her need of these rooms—Sara, little seed,
Little violent, diligent seed. Come let us look at the world
Glittering: this seed will speak,
Max, words! There will be no other words in the world
But those our children speak. What will she make of a world
Do you suppose, Max, of which she is made.

“Sara in Her Father’s Arms” by George Oppen, from NEW COLLECTED POEMS, copyright © 1962 by George Oppen. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.