MN poetry: ‘Family Court’ by Patricia Kirkpatrick

Patricia Kirkpatrick is the author of Century’s Road (Holy Cow! Press, 2004), as well as several chapbooks of poetry. Her books for young readers include Plowie: A Story From the Prairie (Harcourt, 1994) and John Keats and Maya Angelou, both part of the Creative Education Voices in Poetry series. A resident of Saint Paul, Kirkpatrick is also the first winner of Milkweed Editions’ annual Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry. As part of the prize, Milkweed has published a collection of Kirkpatrick’s poetry, titled Odessa. Here’s a sample:

Family Court

To get here we carried flowers,

touched skin,

took a vow, made a child,

broke a promise.

Maybe we made mistakes.

Now change fractures the core

of lives we knew,

brings us to benches, hard seats

along the wall.

When two plates of earth

rub against each other,

having nowhere else to go,

they crack or shatter.

“Brittle failure” geologists call it.

How could it happen to us?

Bodies are mostly water.

We think people want to be good.

Outside, day lilies bloom in planters.

Inside we’re screened for weapons.

We stare at hands or look across the room

where others wait too, stunned

by the passage we’ve booked,

the ticket that delivers us

to steerage,

the lowest deck on a journey.

Some of us are taken to small rooms.

We might have attorneys or

orders for protection,

push strollers, hide bruises with scarves.

Blinking tears we notice the man

at the door wears a gun in his holster.

The judge stays invisible until the last minute

when a gavel divides voices from silence

and the order of the court.

Far away the oldest bird in the world,

black and white and listed

in field books as “common,”

wails a long call before diving

deeper. Deeper.

- “Family Court” by Patricia Kirkpatrick, as it appears in her collection Odessa, published by Milkweed Editions. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.

Milkweed Editions will celebrate the publishing of Odessa on November 28 with a reception at Open Book in Minneapolis. The reception will feature a “poetry swap” in which attendees are encouraged to bring a book of poetry to share and take a different one home in its place.

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