Poetry: Mortification by Jane Zwart

In “Mortification,” the raw intricacies of anatomy lead the speaker to moments of introspection; as much as we are part of the world, Jane Zwart’s poem argues, we are also her witness and philosopher.



In the first flush of youth
sometimes being flesh
made my flesh crawl.
I did not want it to.

I did not want a tide to rise
in my mouth whenever I saw
a suckling child.

I swallowed hardWhy, when
I swallowed hard, did I expect
mockery? Why worry a woman
nursing would see me gulp
and joke Thirsty?
I swallowed hardIt discomfited me

so much it discomfited me.

I did not want the word womb
to make my mother’s upper arm
unbearable where it rested
against mine.
of my womb asI thought
of my womb as a silk pocket
in a fancy jacket.

I swallowed hardThe body
was a miracle. It mortified me–

all its urges and gorges,
the tributaries where hunger
meets hunger, the multipurpose
tenderness of our secret
parts. I did not want it to.

So maybe it is feeble,
the truth: that I could not turf
mortification out
until these needy ones, flesh
of my flesh, could crawl.




Jane Zwart

Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have previously appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, The Poetry Review (UK), and TriQuarterly, as well as other journals and magazines.

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