He rode “no hands,” speeding
headlong down the hill near
our house, his arms extended,
held rigid away from his body,
our small daughter behind him
on the bike in her yellow sunsuit,
bare-headed. She held on to him
for her life. I watched them from
above—helpless failed brake
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Failure to Thrive
O the body’s much ballyhoo’d right to be born!
Aligning with her right to shine & die, a star!
They all know her name but not her age
A doctor our daughters shared, opined.
Her name, he said, was failure to—
(Thrived onscreen, you’ve seen her.)
My daughter towered above her in real
Life. Born on the same day, they
might notice you at the edge of the field
with your banners and bottled cells? A
managed tot, from the womb unstoppered,
Brained-up for the stupids. Don’t grow!
Don’t rise into big citizenship! Soul underling,
soul malingering at the gate! Till the end of the
body’s time: Unicorn, my little porn. Wanted
To unhunger her too, I. But she filled the screen
in that field of dying flowers. Famous-eyed,
turned away from the gift of sustenance, brave: no
semblance of a future beyond everyone’s fake-maternal mind.
Liars’ banners. Then the unicorn’s passage: lightfoot.
And so loved, lightfoot, so apparently loved:
Some of us must starve in order to be seen.
Carol Muske-Dukes was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1945. Her poetry collections include Twin Cities (Penguin, 2011) and Sparrow (Random House, 2003), a National Book Award finalist.