Poet's Choice

By Mary Karr
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Whether a child recklessly runs into traffic or clings until peeled off, every mother must balance keeping said child safe while urging him or her to self-reliance. Worrying that bone kept me up long after my wailing infant had gone to sleep.

The mother in Sarah Harwell's "Dead" recounts one of the small miseries of parenting: nightly wrestling a wakeful child toward sleep, which -- in mythological terms -- is within the kingdom of Hades.

The way my daughter sleeps it's as if she's talking

to the dead. Now she is one. I watch her eyes roll

backwards in her head, her senses fold

one by one, and then her breathing quiets to a beat.

Every night she fights this silent way of being

with all the whining ammunition she has.

She wins a tired story, a smothered song, the small

and willful links to life that carry her away.

Welcome to the Egyptian burial. She's gone to Hades

with her stuffed animals. When she wakes,

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