Willis Barnstone

Gas Lamp, 1893

In brownstone Boston down on old Milk Street,
up two gray flights, near the gas lamp, the tailor
waits glumly for the midwife. August heat
has worn the woman out. Amid the squalor
she looks around the bed, clutching a cape
she brought from London as a child. It’s dawn
and dirty. The dark tailor wants to escape
to his cramped shop. The woman’s sheets are drawn
below her waist. She isn’t hollering now.
Her eyes are dark and still; blood on her thumbs.
Her name is Sarah. No. I’m guessing. How,
untold, am I to know? Hot day has worn
into the room. The midwife finally comes.
Grandmother bleeds to death. My father’s born.

Willis Barnstone
Willis Barnstone is a director of From the Fishouse. He is the author of more than a dozen collections of poetry; the most recent is Life Watch (BOA Editions, 2003), in which Gas Lamp, 1893 appears.
Poem, copyright © Willis Barnstone, 2003
Appearing on the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse