After Reading Baudelaire

With sky a tight-fitting cast-iron lid,
       humidity and temp ninety-eight, rain stalled
over the next county, I listen to Edith
       Piaf ’s “Non, je ne regrette rien,” her raunchy,
chutzpah-laden contralto almost
       convincing me she actually has no regrets,
though I sure do, have never eased
       the ache of leaving my baby boy with sitters
so I could keep on with grad school,
       how some nights I’d come home to a bundle
of shuddering sobs till I held him
       and nursed him, but now of course he’s grown,
a solid forty-one, and I’m proud as
       any proud mom can be, yet I can’t shake free
of those tangling webs, while I know
       the spleen isn’t what Baudelaire and his cronies
thought, rather a neighbor of the stomach
       churning out antibodies, blasting worn-out red
blood cells, not a seat of down-in
       the-mouthness and foul temper as the ancient
physicians believed, so maybe I’m just
       cleaning away forty-plus years of regret, because
I’d sure like to sing along with Piaf
       that I regret nothing, and, after all, I wasn’t as
bad as other mothers I’ve read about,
       even Martha Sharp, who during the SS Nazi
years left her own offspring for months
       at a time to rescue Jewish kids and bring them
to the U.S., saving them from Auschwitz
       and Treblinka, saintly to be sure, but I wouldn’t
blame her children for feeling some
       pretty sour spleen about a mom’s not being there
to hug them for winning archery medals
      at summer camp or battling measles or bronchitis,
so I turn again to Piaf with her feisty
      chanson “Milord,” in awe that, decades after
a girlhood in her grandmother’s brothel,
      this “Little Sparrow” is even now clearing my
gloom, the way currents of rain end
      a drought, the way milk lets down from a breast.

Copyright © 2018 Wendy Barker. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2018.