“Like Lichen Lingering” by Sarah E.N. Kohrs

Sarah E.N. Kohrs


Lichen mummifies a silvery tree limb sheening
with drizzled rain, whose murmur mimics
shuffling feet, chained. It isn’t the ghast

visage of my son—a visceral cord twining
his neck leeched of ruddy hue, so that perhaps
a moment more, he may never have known a breath—but

the orange jumpsuit of a woman, nameless to me,
who entered the door next door, that haunts
my memory of a birthday. An officer bent to remove

the cuffs on her swollen ankles, then slipped the key
into a starched pocket, waiting and waiting like a gargoyle
placed outside the room. Who held her hand

during contractions or slipped ice chips into her mouth
or simply looked into her eyes as one human to another?
During a birthing day when lime green leaves unfurl

even the breeze seems to sigh. But in such confinement,
alone, a woman becomes the mother society ignores
like lichen lingering on tree limbs sheened with rain.

from Poets Respond
December 9, 2018


Sarah E.N. Kohrs: “The birth of my third son was traumatic. Twenty-two hours of labor without pain medication at the end of a long day mothering my two year old left me with the option of pitocin or a c-section. I opted for the former. Ezra emerged with a pale, but bruised face, and the cord wrapped several times tightly about his neck. I often wonder what would have happened if the labor had lingered longer. But, moreso, I marvel that I experienced this with the loving support of my husband and mother, my younger sister who cared for my other son while I labored. Meanwhile, at the very same time, another woman birthed a child in the room next door. She was chained by the feet and hands when she came into the ward—her bright orange jumper taut about the belly. The officer with her unchanged her feet and led her inside only to return and lock the door, which she guarded as if in front of a vault. A vault is a lonely and cold place to labor alone. And that’s what my poem captures as NPR writes about other aspects of imprisoned mothers—women whom society sneers at not as respected ones, but as outcasts. We lock behind doors what we don’t value as much as what we do value. And yet, if we redefine ‘value’ we find that it all comes down to whose eyes are assessing the worth.” (web)

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