Words Said in a Particular Order

The avenue wakes coated in flower litter,

it is the time in spring when the white trees snow,

a manhole in the street heaves and spits

red clay water, carrying little flat brides

into the sewer, and an unspecial bird covers up

the softer songs of the morning, hiding its half notes

in the boxwoods. Blocks away, a school is sick

with numbers let loose like minutes on vacation time

and I am hoping my sons will not ruin there, that they

will be stain-resistant and mighty in their no-iron pants,

iron hearts. I thought that words said in a particular

order could save all of the children.

I thought I could say the words. I made a list of worries

and a list of thanks, and they were the same.

A day moon is out, like a nick in the sky,

far from full. I like the moon when it’s not super

when it draws back into its place, held up

by telephone wires and evergreens,

when nobody runs out into the street to see it

or calls each other on the phone. That it will be

five o’clock, then six, is too much. At night,

we are a family of co-sleepers, all four in one king,

hot stones under wet leaves, thinking our sons

may fall out of bed straight into a war

and so how softly I pull my children from sleep.

I try to make their pains evenly dosed and time-released.

It never works. I’ve tried mothering things

that can’t be nursed. Snake plants deny me.

I keep believing that I will flower out of some green

branch and be released and carried out over the city,

but I know I am not really a part of the budding

pear trees, I am not even above the ground,

I am down below, and it will have to be the black root

of my own heart that pushes me up out of the dirt

that I’ve thought, all this time, was the air.


Elizabeth Hughey is the author of two poetry collections: Sunday Houses the Sunday House (University of Iowa Press) and Guest Host (National Poetry Review Press). She is the co-founder and programming director at the Desert Island Supply Co. (DISCO), a literary arts center in Birmingham, Alabama, where she teaches poetry in the public schools.