We will have cake, and you won’t see
my trouble, you’ll only see
your sister’s eyes
as she looks on, the candle flames,
the sweet. You’ll eat, you’ll pass the rite
of one, because I let you come,
who bodied hope, who brought me pain
and triumph. But
I want to tell you something strange,
though you’re too young for it. A name
burrows, a silver pin swims
inside my brain. I’ve carried it
these last twelve months.
The name is Aislynn. It’s a girl’s,
a riff on some old Gaelic word
for “dream.” She wasn’t mine. You’d think
I’d have forgotten her. But she,
one morning, stirred
within her sleep, and that same month—
the turn of the earth, sad
the trees, bare
the arms of thanksgiving,
barren the dream.
What can I say? The girl became
her name, a dream, instead of what
she’d been. I saw
her mother paint her, then: a head
too large and limbs too frail, fetal,
swaddled hastily in gray clouds.
A canvas titled “Heavenly Sleep,”
but rough, broad-stroked,
and clearly of a womb let go,
marred, and drifting over water.
Forgive me: A man’s body
comforts me: the skin close, the breath
familiar, with whom I lull
& am unfisted. I cling,
& another is born.
The painting’s image clings to me,
as others do, crowding. I think
who felt a mother’s rage; and Pearl,
“the precious pearle withouten spot;”
Narcissa’s Alice, drowned again
as soon as I imagine it.
I carry them;
they live, like secrets. Linus, plash
your fingers on your cake, or not.
Stare, prattle, cry. Reach out to me
or turn aside. When I grew strong
to let you come,
and death stood by (I felt him there)
I knew you were not mine. “I see
his head!” the midwife cried. “Do you have
a name?” I mouthed an “O,” though yes,
we had a name
Linus, “head of flax.”
Some stories say it also means “alas.”
Kjerstin Anne Kauffman holds an MFA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. Her poems, essays, and reviews appear in or are forthcoming from many journals, including Gulf Coast, 32 Poems, and The American Poetry Review.
Artwork: Julia Margaret Cameron, “Devotion,” 1865, public domain.