Three Poems

Kelli Russell Agodon


When I imagined my mother giving birth,
          I knew part of her body became ocean,
                    ligaments loosened then cramped

a thousand times and again until I arrived.
          She bled for hours. I wouldn't know
                     what she meant by good pain until

later, in a hospital room, when I turned to walls
          wanting to write my name with the sweat
                    from my fingers. Reading the clock,

a switchblade opened and shut between
          my legs. I was so thirsty. I remembered
                    the drinking glasses of Venice

were thought to shiver if poison poured in them.
          And I was so close to shattering
                    I wondered how much poison

was inside my veins, my glass body returning
          to the heat, the melt, that moment when egg
                    and sperm connected. Now what grew

from almost nothing was as thirsty for life, eager
          for her first breath and she arrived ready
                    to drink from anything put to her lips.


The ophthalmologist is looking through me.
On the other side of my eye
is God or a peach and I can't imagine

laughing again or seeing the purple
birthmark on my daughter's arm.
When he speaks, I hear shadows.

I hear the empty mouths
of bells. I begin to make promises
to remember long words,

to visit Taos before it is a cloudy city.
On the other side of vision, I can't imagine
the braiding of nerves inside me,

the light reflecting off an unpainted wall
or the red matter, the rug from India
hanging across the window.

The eye chart hides beneath a haze.
They flip through a book and I am to see
numbers, what I say is: I don't know,

I don't know. His assistant leads me
into the waiting room. I hear a man talking
to his child—she must be only two,

her footsteps sound like dancing.
I hear him tell her to follow him,
then say, I think you'll need to hold my hand.


Our Father of intimate apparel, give us C-cups.

Our Father of stilettos and seamed nylons walking us across the wet
          cobblestone path, give us mercy.

Our Father carrying corsets and cosmos to the women with wide waists,
          ready to move hips beyond their lives
          over the ridge of Navy boys, give us racy, I mean mercy.

Our Father of lipstick and blush, of cheekbones rising through
          a plain face in good lighting, grant forgiveness
          to the bodies that do not Stairmaster, grant kindness
          to morning hair, to pasty complexions, uneven skin.

Our Father of necessary beauty who has taught us how to speak
          with the tiresome, to pose and smile in the instant
          of flash photography.

Our Father whose art does seem heavenly in blonde locks,
          black mascara, we pray to pry our bodies into spandex,
          plunging necklines, mermaid dresses, so that we may not be
          just a word whispered in the evening, but the song
          behind the cocktails calling men away from shore.

Kelli Russell Agodon

Kelli Russell Agodon is the author of two books of poems, Small Knots (2004) and Geography, winner of the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award. Her poems have appeared or will soon be published in The Atlantic Monthly, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Meridian, 5 a.m., and the anthology Good Poems for Hard Times edited by Garrison Keillor. She recently edited the broadside series: The Making of Peace. Visit her website at: