From the Archive


Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of Marcelle Roulin, 1888.

Kathleen Ossip’s poem “Babyland” appeared in our Summer 2002 issue. Her latest collection is The Do-Over

Enter warily: here suavity reigns.
Enter solemnly; enter with great thirst.
Under the banner of the splayed lips, the first baby

staked a claim where the ravine crested and the wax-
white cups of the May flower never shut up.
The second baby failed to live up to its potential,

becoming a charmer who embodied the comic spirit.

At midday, in the dappled thicket,
the third baby simply poured out of you.
The fourth baby, nothing more than a figurehead,
broadcast, in Baltic languages, his many moods.

Step aside: now they come faster and faster.
Newsboy baby delivers the morning paper:
Confessional baby tells all!
Daughter-in-law baby disapproves
and hermit baby is just plain weird.
Sculptor baby lingers over the naughty parts.
A chorus of art-critic babies whimpers,
“Why’d they take the tits out of all the pictures?”
Here censorship reigns with its attendant amnesias,
in the desert where the gardenia blooms and in the fen
where vegetable marrows sop up s nutritive fluid.

When night comes the babies scamper into their burrows,
deep under a moonscape of white pains.
Even town-crier baby turns in. Nevertheless,
the abandoned square is dominated by a screen
where favorite movies play in an endless loop.
Here reign the sneaky essentials: tread softly
and with respect to the perils you will suffer or cause.
In the blackening copse, for example, a mystery is unfolding—
who, oh who, dropped the final baby?
Little matter, my darlings. Her unrelieved preciousness
would have slain you, just as nature intended.