by Nadia Herman Colburn


The light on the whitewashed wall so glaring.


Now and now and now:


On the floor, you and our child learning to spell

the names of the ones we love

and the flower, with its delicate stem, the leaf and the leaf and the petals

fanning out.


Nothing can bring back.



Walking through the park we imagine

our children running into some room, letting the door slam,

a vase of tulips placed that morning on the kitchen counter.

imperfect in the bare branching larch.



Suddenly: the everywhere: the fear.

Or not fear, but the sound, in the heart’s engine, caught,

out of range.



And call it home, and call it very own, once, one instant.

Like light on the water.

When I was my own.




The rock that stands on the hill of stone.

The blade that grows between stone.

The dry land with the sea beneath it.

At night, in bed, the body relaxes. And then, in the long light, stretches first the legs, then the arms––



In the fluid dark where you taste,

where you hear—

The internal the external,

cannot be separate––mother to mother to daughter.

Like a belief no longer believed but not yet entirely abandoned––

the mushrooms of the hills that ward off suffering, the leaf that, mixed with water, requites desire––the remedy,

taken by mouth, the knowledge, refound

in an older country, another home.



Then caught in it.

The waters whip in the same direction, then widen out.

The currents churn, each way

against its opposite composed.

And we, at center, in its tight hold––

Water like silence (but the rush

of water underneath it all)

Water like water, a language both foreign and my own.



Across the terraced hills, more terraces.

The olives the only green, and the spindly broom

with its bright yellow blossoms:

the land made to support them;

the donkeys, at evening, carrying water.

O: little one: all this that is not mine

to give you

How much I want to give you.

The aquamarine of the sea, now smooth as glass, brings back,

open mouthed, black plastic bags.

The aquamarine of the sea, now smooth as glass, brings back




As the golden cup of emptiness:

Inside, little legs kicking up against my side,

your little rump now by my navel––

The stones of the hillside

have been gathered into walls, stripes

along the hillside’s middle towards which the sheep,

their legs hobbled close together, walk, eager for shade––

the world into which you will come

is a waiting bowl:



Their leaves a thick, dark, unguent green, their fruit

too dry to eat, the fig trees brush all night, one against the other, in the breeze.

Sound like the sound of rain in our own country.

When you are born, may I recognize

the unseen in my arms.

NADIA HERMAN COLBURN lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two children. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Harvard Review and elsewhere. She is completing a memoir about motherhood, social responsibility and art.



return to Issue  Six