In the Kingdom of Pleasure

By Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952
Unwitting accomplice in the scheme of law   
she thought to violate, man-set as it was,   
and, here, inconsequential as the sun   
at midnight, drought at flood-time—
when she heard a baby in the tall reeds   
at the river’s brink, she was nobody’s   
daughter, subject of no rule
but the one his need for her established   
as she knelt down to quell his crying   
with a little tune just seeing him there   
had taught her how to hum.

                                        Now as then,
it is the same tune, timelessly in time,   
your mother hums as she kneels down   
beside your little barge of foam,
smiling to see you smile when she wrings
out from the sponge a ragged string   
of water over the chest and belly,   
the dimpled loins, the bud so far   
from flowering, and the foot slick
as a fish your hand tries to hold up
till it slips back splashing
with such mild turbulence that she laughs,   
and you laugh to see her laugh.

Here now, as it was then, it is still
so many years before the blood’s smeared   
over doorposts, before the Nile clots   
with the first-born, and the women   
wailing,wailing throughout the city;
here now again is the kingdom of pleasure,   
where they are safe still, mother and child,   
from the chartered rod of the Fathers,   
and where a father can still pray, Lord,   
Jealous Chooser, Devouring Law, keep   
away from them, just keep away.

Alan Shapiro, “In the Kingdom of Pleasure” from Covenant (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991). Copyright © 1991 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Covenant (The University of Chicago Press, 1991)

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Poet Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Birth & Birthdays, Parenthood, Religion, Living

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

 Alan R. Shapiro


Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro was educated at Brandeis University. As the author of numerous collections of poetry, Shapiro has explored family, loss, domesticity, and the daily aspects of people’s lives in free verse and traditional poetic forms. He has published over ten books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014), a finalist for the Pulizer Prize; Night of the Republic (2012), a finalist for the National . . .

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SUBJECT Birth & Birthdays, Parenthood, Religion, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Blank Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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