The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Swan Wife by Sara Moore Wagner

This selection, chosen by guest editor Alyse Bensel, is from Swan Wife by Sara Moore Wagner, released by Cider Press Review in 2022.


When spring comes, I go naked to the lake
near the hospital where I was born. There
is my mother, she has brought me a dress
made from April sky. The clouds hang low,
dragonflies flit over the surface of the water,
cattails fat and meaty. She tells me come out,
someone might see me, the bounce
of my breasts, this ache. I will have to marry the snake
slivering into the banks, will have to marry the sun,
a thick hand on my shoulders. How much I resemble
my little mother even now, holding out fists of earth
to the morning. Give me a husband who’s never seen the glint
of my skin, how it looks like a knife, like a fine hide
to carry home to the children, to place by the fire.
Give me someone who will weave me a robe
from the grass behind my childhood home,
will sit me in the swing where my mother used to rock me
back and forth singing you have stolen my heart
now don’t go away. When I call out for him,
the possum hears me first, long-nosed, a jawful of teeth.
After I leave, in the middle of the night,
he comes to my bedside, favors the darkness
I’ve grown there, the way my sheets pitch up
into a cave, how I’ve always been bifurcated,
two halves of a girl, my want so pungent
it reminds him of his mother, how she’d play
dead in the road for the hawks,
pretend to not be so lovely, pouch full
of babies thick as disease.

Sara Moore Wagner is the author of three prize winning full length books of poetry, Lady Wing Shot, winner of the 2023 Blue Lynx Prize (forthcoming in 2024), Swan Wife (Cider Press Review Editors Prize, 2022), and Hillbilly Madonna (Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize, 2022), and the author of two chapbooks, Tumbling After (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2022) and Hooked Through (2017). She is also a 2022 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award recipient, a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Gulf Coast, Smartish Pace, Waxwing, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Cincinnati Review, among others.

Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things: A Poetic Biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, 2020) and three chapbooks. Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly ReviewCream City ReviewSouth Dakota Review, and West Branch. She serves as Poetry Editor for Cherry Tree and teaches at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference. 

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