By Trevor West Knapp
We speak of the pain of childbirth, referring,
of course, to the mother, but what is pain
to the mother, the one through whose body
the course unwinds? She understands already
what kind of world she must return to,
how it daily hones its many edges
against human skin, unlike the child whose
untried limbs inch toward it, pressing now
so firmly against her he feels for the first time
the pinch of bone against bone and is seared
by the friction. Isn't he the one
on whom the real burden falls, the one
to whom resilience means nothing yet? His
tender skin like a small measure of cloth
unfolding before the blade under which
he will, for a lifetime, bruise
and heal: Crush of the long descent, grip
of the steadying hands, brush of breath
against cheek, even the constant barrage
of the microscopic, the tiny plink-plink
of the dust motes knocking against him
before custom makes him numb to it. No wonder
the startled mouth cries out,
each pore suddenly hungry
in the withering, nourishing light.

Source: Poetry (August 2001).


This poem originally appeared in the August 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

View this poem in its original format

August 2001
 Trevor West Knapp


Trevor West Knapp took her undergraduate degree at Princeton, an M.F.A. at Cornell, and an M.A. at Brown. Winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize at Cornell, she has been a finalist for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize and the Walt Whitman Award. Her poems have appeared widely in literary journals including Poetry Northwest, North Dakota Quarterly, and The Kenyon Review.

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Birth & Birthdays, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Sorrow & Grieving

Poetic Terms Imagery, Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

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.