Published on Academy of American Poets (

We Named You Mercy

             after Gwendolyn Brooks 
I count the years after you, 
know your would-be ages and remember
the sadness that consumed me with the 
bitter sound of you, my almost-children.
Could not conceive in conceiving you 
our muted heat and all that got 
through heaven’s gate to become that 
half-wing that was your soul. Was you. 
I saw your face once and, yes, I did 
kiss your cheeks and cry for your sweet not-
quite nose, not-quite lips. Would I get 
another chance to see you if I held the knife? Cold, the 
sterile taker’s tools, my hands, bloody and damp. 
In the darkness, I felt your toes bloom small 
petals against my ribs. Your closed eyes, pulps 
of possibility. Did you see me? The one with 
empty arms stretching to embrace a 
a silhouette of you? A ghost with little
more than hope for history. Or 
did I make that up to keep you with 
me a little longer? Did you stay until the no
I set upon your body untangled itself from sprigs of hair 
and released you from the softness that tethered you to the 
love in our cold mercy? Quieted blues, your singers
whose band tucked away their baritone horns and 
my chosen grief. How those little workers 
of sadness gathered me up, my heart, that 
splintered with your hard stop. I will never 
know the joy to have handled 
your urgent cries against my chest or thirst for the 
almost milk that did not swell, but was light as air. 


Copyright © 2017 by Amanda Johnston. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 14, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“Writing about my abortions has been difficult. I’m still finding my way through the arc of emotions and language necessary to carry me through the process. Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem ‘the mother’ and Terrance Hayes’s form, the golden shovel, made it possible for me see the poem set upon my heart.”
—Amanda Johnston


Amanda Johnston

Amanda Johnston is the author of the poetry collection Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press, 2017).

Date Published: 2017-11-14

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