By Michael S. Harper b. 1938
When news came that your mother’d
smashed her hip, both feet caught
in rungs of the banquet table,
our wedding rebroken on the memory
of the long lake of silence
when the stones of her body
broke as an Irish fence of stones,
I saw your wet dugs drag
with the weight of our daughter
in the quick of her sleep
to another feeding;
then the shoulders dropped
their broken antenna branches
of fear at the knife
running the scars
which had been born into the colon
for the misspent enema,
the clubbed liver unclean
with the stones of the gall bladder,
and the broken arch of hip
lugging you to the lake,
the dough inner tube of lading
swollen with innerpatching.

I pick you up from the floor
of your ringing fears, the floor
where the photographs you have worked
into the cool sky of the gray you love,
and you are back at the compost pile
where the vegetables burn,
or swim in the storm of your childhood,
when your father egged you on with his
open machinery, the exhaust choking your sisters,
and your sisters choked still.

Now this voice stops you in accusation,
and the years pile up on themselves
in the eggs of your stretched sons,
one born on his birthday, both dead.
I pull you off into the sanctuary
of conciliation, of quiet tactics,
the uttered question, the referral,
which will quiet the condition you have seen
in your mother’s shadow, the crutches
inching in the uncut grass,
and the worn body you will carry
as your own birthmark of his scream.

Michael S. Harper, “Kin” from Nightmare Begins Responsibility. Copyright © 1975 by Michael S. Harper. Used by permission of the poet and University of Illinois Press.

Source: Nightmare Begins Responsibility (University of Illinois Press, 1975)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Michael S. Harper b. 1938

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Relationships, Nature, The Body

 Michael S. Harper


Acclaimed poet and teacher Michael S. Harper was born in 1938, in Brooklyn, New York. Known his innovative use of jazz rhythms, cultural allusion, historical referent and personal narrative, Harper is “a deeply complex poet whose mission is to unite the fractured, inhumane technologies of our time with the abiding deep well of Negro folk traditions,” said John Callahan in the New Republic. Harper does this, noted Poetry reviewer . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Relationships, Nature, The Body

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.