Poem: Kingdom

Joyelle McSweeney’s book explores the ecstasy of impending childbirth and the fissure of joy when the baby is born with a birth defect, lives for 13 days and dies. “Kingdom” is a poem written after the baby’s death. It’s a spiteful elegy against the persistent onslaught of spring and of the indifference of the world surrounding a death. This poem’s brilliance (and wounds) register through language’s sonic playfulness, as if to say that language is the only way to clap back at grief. The speaker’s bold agency is empowering — even the last line is an unexpected imperative.
Selected by Victoria Chang

Credit…Illustration by R. O. Blechman


By Joyelle McSweeney

like the phantom of the opera
or the kingdom of god
the golden state killer
is there inside your mind
is such a golden state like the lobby of the
beaux art
regional theater
halfway thru
phantom of the op
in spring
the chandelier has just fallen
this lobby like a stuffy skull all done in gold plate
and stuffed up inside like a corpse in the crawl space
Spring’s migraine
Spring’s petite mal
Beside the shuttered mall
a little fleury today
Your seizure your social your
mother’s maiden name.

A postcard arrives
From the doctor:
For I was cheered to learn
that there are flowers
even in hell
Such cheerful wallpaper
even in hell
like juice glasses in a
space age dinette but
I don’t like those trees
change them

Victoria Chang is a poet whose fifth book of poems, “Obit” (Copper Canyon Press, 2020), was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Time Must-Read. Her book of nonfiction, “Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence and Grief,” was published by Milkweed Editions in 2021. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Joyelle McSweeney is a poet whose books include “Toxicon and Arachne” (Nightboat Books, 2020), from which this poem is taken. She is director of the creative-writing program at the University of Notre Dame.

Related Articles

Back to top button