I-70 Review

Writing and Art from the Middle and Beyond

Susan Whitmore

     Susan Whitmore is the author of three volumes of poetry: The    

     Invisible Woman (Singular Speech Press 1991), The Sacrifices (Mellen Poetry Press 1992) and The Melinda Poems (Pudding House Press 2004). She has degrees from Vassar College (BA) and Emerson College (MFA) and has taught English at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and the University of Missouri – Kansas City. She is the previous Executive Director of The Writers Place/Midwest Center for the Literary Arts and currently is Vice President of Development at First Call in Kansas City.



     Any woman with a seed unexpected inside her

     Eventually finds herself in a stable, warmed

     By animals keeping no truck with the attitudes

     Of men. Faith is kept best at night by pressing

     Close to each other. Insight weighs as much as

     An unasked-for child given us to hold and carry,

     See through to our death. Sacrifice is the boon

     Sucked up to, whatever the fear, a last ember

     Glowing in the grate with a heart sure enough

     To set the whole body blazing again when

     Breath rises just right – or wrong.


     Every morning and birth is hope's resurrection,

     Frost sparkling light on the grass and sunlit  

     Window, voice rising in a cloud to prove

     Inside heat keeps kicking up its perfect spark.

     Today, the family's intact; tomorrow, in pieces.

     Someone's left, or died – the father, or mother

     Who nursed children beyond her own obstacles;

     Or it's you who's succumbed to accident, desire,

     Or disease. Perhaps today a child is conceived

     With no name, born to a new life transforming

     What we've come to plan for, wish, expect.



     But think of the dumb, sweet animals:

     Those who turn their heads to water without

     Question. The mule after pulling the plough,

     Butting goats come evening, sheep with their teeth

     On succulent grass. Think of a calf falling wet

     From the heifer who's found a shaded spot

     At the field's edge to drop her shining burden,

     The heifer bending to clear the small nose and mouth

     With her tongue. Think of the dog and cat,

     Sworn enemies, sleeping one curled against the other

     When the night is cold, and even when it's not.

     Do birds think, shall I not, or shall I sing?

     Does your heart's cadence choose its beat, silence, beat?



     The Nude is held intact by its frame:

     Black tree trunk cured beyond existence,

     Sap no longer lively, existing now

     To embrace a woman's intricate space.

     Four limbs stretched to four corners –

     Hand and foot and hand and foot –

     Body exposed pink and gray, a bit of blue

     Around skin's edges where the outer

     World kisses the inner membrane,

     Angels whispering to ready veins,

     Keep on living – even as devils raise hair

     Back of neck and scalp, voicing doubt.


     She has a home, two children

     And work she does to keep things intact –

     Food in the mouth, ink in the pen,

     Sandalwood incense on the altar.

     Each night, four limbs to four corners:

     Bare belly exposed to the angels'

     Precursor answer to incessant questions

     While those devils confound every deed.

     Each day, she finds herself on her knees.

     Every perfect figure crumbles at death.

     Meanwhile: the luminous and spread torso.

     A blatant body bounded by frame.



     I'm no prophet, but I can tell

     When blood falls too quickly,

     I can tell when the entrails are tangled

     Into unnatural knots on the stone:

     Their pattern spells yearning,

     That hard gallop toward God

     In entirely the wrong direction.

     How can I do this without words?

     Someone has to mention that

     The intestines are the wrong color,

     The liver twice the size it should be,

     Black blood running northward in a rush

     To the brain, instead of gently

     In the four directions, from the heart.

     I'll admit it. There are times when

     I want the one I love to lift me

     Like a child from the stone, put the puzzle

     Of my guts together and name me whole.

     The one I love will love me broken:

     I will not wake up one day suddenly one piece,

     Having run together like mercury.

     It's me splayed wide on the gray stone

     Of my life, split from my mouth to my sex—

     It's for me alone to look inside and listen.

     There's a singing and a crying both

     I cannot decipher, a code

     Composed in its own language:

     Of the body, not of words.


     On Highway 435 into Kansas my hands are careful

     On the wheel, the muscles of my heart vigilant

     Around the veins they squeeze – four chambers of beat

     And a whole body to keep going. I'm thinking earth

     And country people more intact and at ease than me,

     The gentle cheek's acceptance of wind, mind no obstacle

     To time or how much time it takes to travel ten miles

     Going seventy. Early evening and light is late. I imagine

     Heavy cows moaning now for milking, beady-eyed crows

     Settling in the poplars, nutty oats poured before horses.

     The creak of iron, stable doors bolted against the cold.

     The man who proffers oats feels horse body come to rest,

     Heat rising with each breath, warmth inside wooden walls.

     The woman who wed the man rests her brow against

     The carpet of a cow's side, her palms and fingers easing

     Steaming milk into a bucket. And I am among the crazies

     Going as fast as we can without dying or getting a ticket.

     Still, I have my own boon: The magenta sunset spreads

     A florid skirt against sky, revealing her secret –

     A blood-red opening and fuchsia thighs she dares me kiss.