Poetry Archive


It was not like the pictures
in the pregnancy books.
the ones where the mother,
usually white, wears a lace
night gown, sits in her rocking chair, her hair
in waves down her face, her
baby coveted to her breast.
The baby’s head is all we see
and the slightly raised mound
from her chest. No nipple or areola. She is an angel,
the baby is her angel. Everything
is arranged in gauzy perfect angel

There was no baby who could not
latch. No brown mother,
her nipples  bloody and cracked. No hormones
coming down after the pumping machine
takes her milk. This mother sweaty and tearful
is no angel. Her locs piled on her head like she’s
headed to a field to chop cotton or cane. This mother
wears a college t-shirt slightly stained with baby spit up.
She cries
because she is not the woman in the pregnancy book. 

She watches the father feed the baby from
a bottle. She loves him but she cries because she wants
the baby to drink from her. She decides to kill the woman in the
pregnancy book with her gauzy dumb angel light. She throws
the book away.

And one night when the father warms the midnight bottle
the tearful brown mother tries
she decides to lay her body
down and pile pillows in the bed
nest the hungry baby against her
breast. Her breast is all her baby
will see or smell.
The latching is not easy. It hurts
but the baby is hungry. And milk
comes, seeps from the corner of her mouth.
The mother is happy but too exhausted to smile
and thinks before sleep carries her
this is what should be
in the pregnancy books
the sweaty sleepy  mother
curled into her child.  Whole breast exposed.

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Filed under: Poetry Archive


Kelly Norman Ellis is an associate professor of English and director of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Chicago State University. She is the author of Tougaloo Blues and co-editor of Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on AIDS/HIV, both from Third World Press. Her work has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Sou’Wester, PMS (Poem, Memoir, Story), Tidal Basin Review, Calyx, and The Ringing Ear. In 2010 Essence Magazine voted her one of their forty favorite poets. She is a Cave Canem Poetry Fellow and founding member of the Affrilachian Poets.