Choke off the wineskin’s spout is what Apollo’s oracle
tells Aegeus, king of Athens, when he goes looking
to cure his infertility, which was not the same advice
my neighbor Agnes O’Neill offered me
as I sat in her living room, watching her nurse her son,
who was nearly three, pushing his boy head
against her breasts that were flattened, come to think of it,
like wineskins. His knees pedaled her thighs
as he sucked and foraged, and an eye oculated the room
like the ego’s manic periscope marking what was his from hers
and scrutinizing me as if I were foreign matter,
social debris navigated with cries and squirms,
while the TV shed its blare of light and sound.
And then like the casual, misdirected oracle I deserved,
she asked if I wore briefs or boxers
and before I could answer, she said, “Boxers,
that’ll keep ‘em loose and cool.”
And that was all she said, all she needed to say,
as she shifted her angel child to her other breast
when he began to fuss.
Michael Collier is the author of five books of poems, including The Ledge, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; and most recently, Dark Wild Realm. He is also co-editor, along with Charles Baxter and Edward Hirsch, of A William Maxwell Portrait. His translation of Euripides’s Medea appeared in 2006 and a collection of essays, Make Us Wave Back, in 2007. Collier has received a “Discovery”/The Nation Award, the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Pushcart Prize, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Maryland and is the director of The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.