Alicia Ostriker











Greedy baby
sucking the sweet tit
your tongue tugging the nipple tickles your mama
your round eyes open appear to possess understanding
when you suckle I am slowly moved
in my sensitive groove
you in your mouth are alive, I in my womb
a book lies in my lap I pretend to read
I turn some pages, when satiated
a moment you stop sucking
to smile up with your toothless milky mouth
I smile down, and my breast leaks
it hurts, return
your lashes close, your mouth again clamps on
you are attentive as a business man
your fisted fingers open relaxing and
all rooms are rooms for suckling in
all woods are woods for suckling in
all boulevards for suckling
sit down anywhere, all rivers
are rivers for suckling by-
I have read that in all wars, when a city is taken,
women are raped, and babies stabbed in their little bellies
and hoisted up to the sky on bayonets —






His speed and strength, which is the strength of ten
years, races me home from the pool.
First I am ahead, Niké, on my bicycle,
no hands, and the Times crossword tucked in my rack,
then he is ahead, the Green Hornet,
buzzing up Witherspoon,
flashing around the corner to Nassau Street.

At noon sharp he demonstrated his neat
one-and-a-half flips off the board:
Oh, brave. Did you see me, he wanted to know.
And I doing my backstroke laps was Juno
Oceanus, then for a while I watched some black
and white boys wrestling and joking, teammates, wet
plums and peaches touching each other as if

it is not necessary to make hate,
as if Whitman was right and there is no death.
A big wind at our backs, it is lovely, the maple boughs
ride up and down like ships. Do you mind
if I take off, he says. I’ll catch you later,
see you, I shout and wave, as he peels
away, pedaling hard, rocket and pilot.




In the Dust


This year, she announces to us all at dinner,
in ballet class she has discovered “perfection.”
At the swimming pool all day she practices dives,
stretches out on her towel
like an array of astronomical sensors.
She reads The Great Gatsby, cries. It is deep summer,

it is blazing August. I read, I write poems, I make
moist love with my husband, quarrel with him, cry,
make turbulent love. He tends the garden,
she is polite to me. August,
heat, dust. When I wash her hair, I want to run
my hands over her nude body, her readiness.

On the birthday morning we drive to the jeweler’s
in the jeweled August sun. She takes my hand
to cross the bright street, asking if it will hurt,
and I say it will sting
like a doctor’s needle. She runs ahead to the shop,
where the bearded jeweler punctures her lobes.

It is evening. We are carrying
dishes, glasses and wrappings in from the garden,
wearing our long skirts, saying the party was nice.
Her girlfriends came and admired her fourteen carat
studs, and they played sedately.
Now she lingers and rubs her feet in the grass.

What is that whirling in the dust?
What is that powerful
movement, everywhere, so rapid she cannot see it?
The fireflies are making their phosphorus, slow circles,
the appletrees ripening, and she
is going willingly. I send her willingly.



Three poems from The Mother/Child Papers, Momentum Press 1980;

reprinted Beaacon Press 1986;

reprinted University of Pittsburgh Press 2009.




*My most recent collection of poems is The Book of life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012. A portion of this book has appeared in translation online in the journal Temporel, published in Paris this spring; the remainder is scheduled to appear next January in the print journal Peut-être.



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