By Kelly Hansen Maher

Accepting the rise and fall of boxcars heaving
across the city, our industrial neighborhood.
Old neighborhood, in which immigrants,
studying for citizenship exams,
named the streets in the order of the presidents.
Trains make their slow move uphill, Fillmore,
Pierce, Buchanan, measuring each breath taken,
the newborn on my chest. Her small head
in the dark room, nose and mouth open,
sleeping. We stir; we are steady as train yards, lids
flutter. I hear insects at the open windows, the out
and in of her breath, my husband’s
deep twitching, the dog’s snore. Our bed
smells of human milk, which is lean
of fat and protein so that she will wake frequently
and want me. She has this one country.
I’m on an incline, never fully prone,
kept my word, kept her head
above the blankets, on the pillow of my arm,
kept her face to the air of the room all spring, all
summer. It’s before dawn when the birds…
the light in the room doesn’t change, but the trains
have stopped rolling over the narrow
bridges… birds must know… the pale yellow
beyond the yard… what first birds? chickadees
or sparrow, or thrush? I have small dreams
all night, it’s a covenant to keep her
breathing. Her new system in delicate
crating at the rail of my clavicle,
she’ll track with me, start again after stopping.
I don’t miss depth, tuned from sleep, Lincoln,
Johnson, Ulysses, anything could happen
to her in that other room
without me, and god help me,
there will be no more death in this house.

Today’s poem was was previously published in the Blue Mesa Review and appears in the collection Tremolo (Tinderbox Editions, 2016, copyright Kelly Hansen Maher). It appears here today with permission from the poet.

Kelly Hansen Maher is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but now lives in Grinnell, Iowa. She is the author one book of poetry, Tremolo (Tinderbox Editions, 2016), and is currently working on a second collection, as well as a book of memoir/essays. Her poems have been published by the New Orleans Review, Briar Cliff Review, and others journals. She teaches creative writing courses with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.

Editor’s Note: With its evocative imagery and haunting ending, today’s poem is motherhood poetry that resonates, that stays with the reader. There are truths here all mothers of infants know: “I have small dreams / all night, it’s a covenant to keep her / breathing.” Time is measured like breath. Breath is the promise that life will go on, one breath at a time. Sound functions on the level of the line, the scene, the moment, propelling the poem forward, pacing the reader to go on expectantly, breath slow, aware and uncertain.

Want to read more by and about Kelly Hansen Maher?
Kelly Hansen Maher’s Official Website
Buy Tremolo from Tinderbox Editions
New Orleans Review
Midway Journal
Tinderbox Poetry Journal


  1. ‘~~It’s a covenant to keep her breathing.~~’ it appears that i’m moved, most always, by the lines you choose, Sivan! Thank you for the ever-breathing (peace).


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