Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)


Prodigal

Copper and ginger, the plentiful
      mass of it bound, half loosed, and
            bound again in lavish

      disregard as though such heaping up
were a thing indifferent, surfeit from
            the table of the gods, who do

            not give a thought to fairness, no,
      who throw their bounty in a single
lap. The chipped enamel—blue—on her nails.

The lashes sticky with sunlight. You would
      swear she hadn’t a thought in her head
            except for her buttermilk waffle and

      its just proportion of jam. But while
she laughs and chews, half singing
            with the lyrics on the radio, half

            shrugging out of her bathrobe in the
      kitchen warmth, she doesn’t quite
complete the last part, one of the

sleeves—as though, you’d swear, she
      couldn’t be bothered—still covers
            her arm. Which means you do not

      see the cuts. Girls of an age—
fifteen for example—still bearing
             the traces of when-they-were-

            new, of when-the-breasts-had-not-
      been-thought-of, when-the-troublesome-
cleft-was-smooth, are anchored

on a faultline, it’s a wonder they
      survive at all. This ginger-haired
            darling isn’t one of my own, if

      own is ever the way to put it, but
I’ve known her since her heart could still
            be seen at work beneath

            the fontanelles. Her skin
      was almost otherworldly, touch
so silken it seemed another kind

of sight, a subtler
      boundary than obtains for all
            the rest of us, though ordinary

      mortals bear some remnant too,
consider the loved one’s fine-
            grained inner arm. And so

            it’s there, from wrist to
      elbow, that she cuts. She takes
her scissors to that perfect page, she’s good,

she isn’t stupid, she can see that we
      who are children of plenty have no
            excuse for suffering we

      should be ashamed and so she is
and so she has produced this many-
            layered hieroglyphic, channels
           
            raw, half healed, reopened
      before the healing gains momentum, she
has taken for her copy-text the very

cogs and wheels of time. And as for
      her other body, says the plainsong
            on the morning news, the hole

      in the ozone, the fish in the sea,
you were thinking what exactly? You
            were thinking a comfortable

            breakfast would help? I think
      I thought we’d deal with that tomorrow.
Then you’ll have to think again.

Credit


From Prodigal: New and Selected Poems, 1976–2014 (Mariner Books, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Linda Gregerson. Used with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Author


Linda Gregerson

Linda Gregerson’s book Waterborne won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, and her book The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Date Published: 2016-11-29

Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/prodigal