November 2007

Claudia Emerson


Claudia Emerson's poems have appeared in Poetry, Smartish Pace, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, New England Review, and other journals. Pharaoh, Pharaoh (1997), Pinion, An Elegy (2002), and Late Wife (2005) were published as part of Louisiana State University Press's signature series, Southern Messenger Poets, edited by Dave Smith. Late Wife won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

It began with the first baby, the house
disappearing threshold by threshold, rooms

milky above the floor only her heel,
the ball of her foot perceived. The one thing real

was the crying; it had a low ceiling
she ducked beneath—but unscalable walls.

Then she found with the second child
a safer room in the camera obscura, handheld,

her eye to them a petaled aperture,
her voice inside the darkcloth muffled

as when they first learned it. Here, too, she steadied,
stilled them in black and white, grayscaled the beestung

eye, the urine-wet bedsheet, vomit, pox,
pout, fever, measles, stitches fresh-black,

bloody nose—the expected shared mishap
and redundant disease. In the evenings

while they slept, she developed the day's film
or printed in the quiet darkroom, their images

under the enlarger, awash in the stopbath,
or hanging from the line to dry. Sometimes

she manipulated their nakedness, blonde hair
and bodies dodged whiter in a mountain stream

she burned dark, thick as crude oil or tar. The children's
expressions fixed in remedial reversals,

she sleeved and catalogued them, her desire,
after all, not so different from any other mother's.



Claudia Emerson: Poetry
Copyright ©2007 The Cortland Review Issue 37The Cortland Review