Matthew Sumpter

Witching Hour, 2016


In the year of more unpardonable death,
my daughter cries in my arms, trying

to twist free of her body. Six weeks,
and she can feel the world wholly:

jagged and close, an ammoniac burning
in the light, her blood circulating

like spoons in a disposal. I curl around her,
my shooshes weaving into her voice

like sharp rain into a creek. And like a creek
her voice begins wearing something away,

eroding something unforgiving and hard
and taking its place. Nothing is better,

but something has changed. Through the window,
the scent of wet concrete: warm oil and petrichor.

Wind tangles in climing ivy and wisteria.
The delivery men all idle at their curbs,

listening to my infant daughter like parishoners
as she moans an uneasy pact with sleep.

Even when she stills, head on my chest,
her screams echo in the room and out

the window we keep open in summer,
reminding us that none of it is good enough:

not our promises or laws, not our buildings
or ocean jetties or city ponds latticed with ice,

not our prayers or petitions or patinaed statues
or candle flames preening above discarded flowers,

not all our gratitude woven together
beneath the silver heart-fires of stars.

No song suffices but the one that sighs
not yet, not yet in my warm and useless arms.


Matthew Sumpter is the author of Public Land (University of Tampa Press, forthcoming Winter 2018), which won the Anita Claire Scharf Award. His poems have previously appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker, the New Republic, and Best New Poets 2014, and his fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train. Winner of the Crab Orchard Review Special Issues Feature Award and the Zocalo Public Square Poetry Prize, he received his MFA from The Ohio State University, and his PhD in Creative Writing from Binghamton University. He currently teaches academic and creative writing at Rutgers University.