At any given time she only owned
one sturdy bra. After awhile white rubber threads
escaped the cotton shell, and the shoulder strapscurled in delicate scallops over her shoulder.
She bowed to settle her breasts into the cups.
Her father, a preacher who believedin the virtue of thrift, allowed one square
of toilet tissue, three, if necessary. His pencils,
she told us many times—as if, though he diedwhen she was young, she still could not believe—
he arranged by size, each sharp as the poison of certainty.
From the alley on winter school-day afternoonsin the cold and hoary dark I watched her
in the haloed light of the stove’s hood.
I could see her contentmentor her anger in how she bent to her task. She’d
woven a nest of silence and dark around herself
I wanted to enter it a pilgrim but did not know how.
Copyright © 2019 by Athena Kildegaard.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Athena Kildegaard’s previous books are Rare Momentum, Bodies of Light (a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award), Cloves & Honey (a finalist for the Midwest Book Award), and Ventriloquy. She received the LRAC/McKnight Fellowship and grants from the Lake Region Arts Council and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She teaches at the University of Minnesota, Morris.
In Course, Kildegaard traces the course of her mother’s life and death, and of her own grief. At the same time, it follows the course of the river where her mother’s ashes were placed.
“The poems in Athena Kildegaard’s Course contain multitudes: garter snakes, bats, herons, wild rhubarb, ‘the thousand / reed-hidden / black-birds.’ But their central concern surrounds the complex life and death of a mother, and attendant mourning for her. Trust and doubt coexist in these pages, and the natural world offers solace but never complete reassurance: ‘How vain to seek certainty,’ Kildegaard writes. Indeed, the book ends with a poem comprised of spacious questions. As readers, we are caught in the current of this marvelous book, which is as honest and deep-flowing and eternal as the river that passes through its pages.”
“‘Tenderness toward existence’ is the phrase that came to me again and again as I read Course, Athena Kildegaard’s marvelous new book of poems in which grief and joy course together through time and to the end of time. ‘Any tender place for death,’ Kildegaard writes. But equally true, as this book so lovingly demonstrates, is that any tender place is a place for life. Athena Kildegaard has written a book which has found a true home for tenderness in a world so desperately in need of it.