Portrait of the Artist in the Pediatrician’s Waiting Room
All the knives. When the baby was brand-new I hid them. Padded the walls. Hid too the movie reel of all that could befall my perfect, perfectchild. The doctors don’t know what the ancients did— that the flawless are the ones the priest collects to sacrifice. A child too perfectcalls to the knife. Hallelujah the birthmark, the extra digit. Once when the rains kept coming, 140 children lined up to have their perfect, perfecthearts ripped out. Not mine. A tree branch once slit his cheek, a rock his knee—see the marks? Not mine. Not me. I don’t do dishes. My house is a perfectmess. Like the other waiting-room mothers. Who slipped up and who else loves enough to slip—boiling pot, narrow stairs? We all mar our perfect, perfectchildren. The knives back out on the counter. They glint in late afternoon light, whetstone-honed. I’m greedy as any god. More scars.
From Harbinger by Shelley Puhak.
Copyright © 2022 by Shelley Puhak.
Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Shelley Puhak is the author of the National Poetry Series winner Harbinger, selected by Nicole Sealey, as well as two other books of poetry. Her work has also been awarded the Anthony Hecht Prize, the Towson Prize for Literature, and two Maryland State Arts Council grants. Poems from Harbinger appeared in The Atlantic, Barrow Street, The Cincinnati Review, and other magazines.
"The speaker in Shelley Puhak's Harbinger is no closer to knowing herself than I am, than we are, which is why we trust her. Each similarly titled poem holds a triptych mirror up to the artist and, in so doing, up to us all, so we may better see ourselves as we are. In ever-changing form."
“Harbinger is a reminder of something we all too commonly lose track of: the idea of poetry as an art form...Puhak’s grasp here is shocking, reaching across centuries, millennia...[but with] a narrative that is perfectly contemporary, postmodern, and personal...exquisitely well-crafted...Sometimes, a book can surprise you.”
—New York Journal of Books