I knew about birth that it happens unbidden
by us, the born, the living. My brother would not

be comforted—pink pearl of him, that lustrous
cry—but burrowed through cooed phrases,

here, there there, to a world wild and unformed
as air, as breath, that startling. His self,

no bigger than my toddler t-shirts, occupied us all
with his confusion. Neither would I be consoled;

having lived in what he’d yet make meaning of—
apartment, wide, planked floors, plants in corners,

felted with dust—I knew about the world
that it had rooms you walk into and move through,

staring, straining to inhabit then return from.
First I watched him in his crib, that shifting ribcage,

body barely anything. Or I played underneath
my mother’s skirts, curry thickening the air above us;

her long-sleeved arms stirred something when I looked.
Mostly I looked straight up, though, into that tent of denim,

towards the looming body from which I’d been born
and into which, I pretended, I could return.


“Firstborn” expresses with lyric intensity a particular anxiety, reforming the experience of the only child’s displacement to “firstborn” and sibling—and in the process delightfully pairing the architecture of the “world” and its rooms with that of the mother.
—Claudia Emerson, 2011 Ruth Stone Poetry Prize Judge

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