Six Children

Mark Ford

‘Though unmarried I have had six children’
Walt Whitman

The first woman I ever got with child wore calico
In Carolina. She was hoeing beans; as a languorous breeze
I caressed her loins, until her hoe lay abandoned in the furrow.

The second was braving the tumultuous seas that encircle
This fish-shaped isle; by the time a sudden riptide tore
Her from my grasp, she had known the full power of Paumanok.

One matron I waylaid – or was it she who waylaid

Me? – on a tram that shook and rattled and
Rang from Battery Park to Washington Heights and back.

O Pocahontas! You died as Rebecca Rolfe, and are buried
In Gravesend. Your distant descendant, her swollen belly
Taut as a drum, avoids my eye, and that of other men-folk.

While my glorious diva hurls her enraptured soul to the gods,
I sit, dove-like, brooding in the stalls: what in me is vast,
Dark and abysmal, her voice illumines and makes pregnant.

Some day, all together, we will stride the open road, wheeling
In an outsized pram my sixth, this broken, mustachioed
Soldier whose wounds I bind up nightly. His mother I forget.