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Sarah Ruden Five Poems



My enemy had hatched her young,

Made real the prim, loud boasts she’d sung,


And when I saw the pampered thing,

I said it wouldn’t fly or sing.


My talons tightened on its fluff.

Their points were digging deep enough


That blood and dung and shrieks sprang out—

This wasn’t what I’d thought about


Those long weeks in my moldy hollow.

No, by all rights it didn’t follow


That, blood to blood, its heart, my pulse

Battered each other. It convulsed


Against no claws or hard joints now

But two plain, helpless hands. Yet how—


When quickly as a lamp is lit,

It grew, then slashed and gouged and bit


Up in the harrow of the air—

Was I to take my prey back there?


I struck, I buckled. He might know,

Who hung, millennia ago


From nails like mine but didn’t leave

Even the predator to grieve.


But where was He? Nothing below

Appeared but damp trees, ragged snow,


Dead reeds—a dead end like a cave;

Like smoke, for all the light it gave.


My wings were withering, but I

Must make my way through that cold sky


To somewhere that could hardly be,

With what I’d taken into me.


First published in National Review, vol. 65, #16 (September 2, 2013), p. 36.



We couldn’t get our special wine

(And Pharaoh said, “Not me, not mine”).


We’re not the people to complain,

But at that very instant, rain—


As in some awful movie—fell

In solid sheets, vacation hell!


I’d never seen a thicker flood

Of first-born deaths, and frogs, and blood—


The terrace roof insanely battered,

The couple by the railings spattered—


Their ruined anniversary!

Just a bad joke, it seems to me;


And us, without our special wine

(And Pharaoh said, “Not me, not mine”).


First published in Commonweal, vol. 143, #14.

A Refugee


My womb

Was brought here safe, but for the rest

There was no room;

As when a breast


Or crotch or calloused hand

Washed up alone alive.

The fine, clean sand

Dared anything less useful to arrive.


There at the start,

A roped crate, with a stamp

That certified a premium brain or heart

Sat waiting on a ramp.


They said a bruised, a full, still-clenching fist,

The widest eyes, a waist precisely spare—

I marveled, so specific was the list—

Were hurtled, sipping cognac, through the air.


I envy no one, though.

I sent my womb,

Here, where I couldn’t go,

An empty tomb.


First published in Today’s American Catholic.

The Divorce


In a small way, the foreign residents

Are rounded up—the Spartans sit and comb

Their hair, watched by the Persians from their tents—

Rationing starts—the diplomats go home—


But all discretely, ordinarily—

Toy Lusitanias sink in the bath:

So with no end in pomp and amnesty,

No noisy choking on the wine of wrath.


And next door, in my living room tonight,

My “Who could tell?” just parodies a scene

Of teenage mourners burning flags; I might

As well be ranting on a simmering screen.


The child is laughing still, at three years old,

Out in the yard, with its ghost tanks on track.

She’s with her aunt and hasn’t yet been told

By diplomats who’re never going back.


First published in Commonweal.

The Man Robbed and Beaten and Left for Dead

(Luke 10: 30-33)


Across the level road I see

Somebody. He looks back at me.


(And help will come, or help will pass

By these outdated wisps of grass.)


No height or depth can intervene.

Only the smooth stones lie between.


How was my agony outrun?

I have poured out the wind and sun


(Crickets and flies and passersby)

And only watch from where I lie.



First published in National Review, vol. 63, #14.

Sarah Ruden

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