A Poem by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

June 9, 2020  By Rachel Eliza Griffiths

On guard my mother studied her
ankles & hands all the time. Any swelling
set off alarms. Everything in our home
bolted to wet silence. Our family
could be capsized should the fluid
breach her heart. More than once
it did. Surrounded her heart
with gold liquid. Attacked her
heart with its rising flood.
I hated the smell & arrogance
of it. The way pain misshaped
my mother’s lovely muscles.
I never understood how
the body made so much of it.
She would pull fluid off her body.
Concerned for the kidney
she had received from a murdered child.
Worried that the fluid would pull her
under the hull of her own organs.
Liters & milliliters placed us
on the brink. For years after she died
I lived along a gold, raw edge
of Maybe or Maybe Not. I kept asking:
Could I have ever saved her?
I only mean that some days I was certain
there was nothing left after she died
that could fill the hollows in me. I wanted to
know how I could drown my Ishmael
of memory. Lift my life out of my mother’s
mute grave. Nothing to surround my heart,
which turned & kicked like something
orphaned in its cradle. Red-veined rage
burning itself blue with screaming.
I was so sick last January my doctors
ordered iron, multiple blood transfusions.
My blood was bad, giving up its blue air.
Yet I refused new blood. Having sacrificed
my blood to my mother’s absence,
I could barely stand to give myself
the anchor of blood that might pull me
above the waves, those years I drifted
like an empty bottle under the tide.


Excerpted from Seeing the Body: Poems. Copyright © 2020 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Rachel Eliza Griffiths is the author of four previous collections of poetry, including Lighting the Shadow. Her literary and visual work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, Paris Review, and many other publications. She lives in New York City.

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