Susan Bennerstrom ,  Ionia  (oil on canvas)

Susan BennerstromIonia (oil on canvas)

Last night, drifting near sleep’s
shrouded coast, I returned to
my own first days, the wonder
that washed over me, my arrival from
the cloistered heat, wet, unknown,
headlong into the world, the startled
pleasure of that blistered rush of air,
and how my mother dressed me in
a cotton gown, swaddled me in flannel,
a nameless one, bound, unfledged,
and brought me home and in the slow
undertow of her chaptered sleep
carried me from room to room, pastel
light of snow in every glass, ice
disquieting the hours, laid me down, ran
her small thick country hands the quick
interval of me, hands grown used to
parting dark from light, to wash, anoint,
and powder me, the way I went with her,
alone, at night, when I would cry,
to rock and suck and fall into the careless
beauty of that once-given sleep—
fathomless, those standstill hours—
when I was just a little one,
the one and only One, sour-baby
smell on her neck, the way we circulated
cooing vowels between us, as if to say
what words later could not say,
while I grew fat on milk,
her world-round breasts, her heavy arms
a second womb, my aviator, my avatar,
she ferried me through whispered air,
and how she settled on a name, Ruth,
companion of the wanderers, the sorrowing,
and called it out, to fix me to the Earth,
those long winter nights of my becoming.


Kathryn Hunt