The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Judith Montgomery

Twisted Ladder Stitch

--after Psalm 139: 13-16


      My fine coiled skein of amaranthine

yarn—its penitential tinge, shine

      of amethyst sunk under water—


                  you knitted me 


      ready to be cast-on, swatched to judge

how married stitch and stitch might

      sing or stagger on the double needles—


                  you knitted him 


      in intricate pattern, twisted ladders

rising—slip, knit, pass over—to create

      a shapely lace-work of space—


                  together in my womb 


      lock-linked as lettered genes 

chained in artful spiral—adenine

      and thymine, cytosine and guanine—


                  fearfully and wonderfully made


      working bone and blood, cells

laddering the body of my son

      in flawed and uncorrected stitches—


                  made in secret  


      gift I labored into light to see

his first cord cut— I still blind

      to faults invisible to any mortal eye—


                  in your book were written 


      letters spelling bipolar, cancer,

wild cells bred to tangle— 

     ravaging, unraveling the line of his life—


in your book were written

           every one of them,

                  the days that were formed for him 


      You lift the shears to snip his

thread, cut your losses.  What I

      knit, I watch.  Fix every flaw.



Judith Montgomery

Doing What I'm Doing


She has dug a foot-deep ragged hole

       in my garden, dug deep beneath my Early

Girl tomato, toppled

                  its cage of sticks its thumb-

thick stems its starry yellow blossoms

      heavy-seeded fruit—toppled the whole

ripe body flat, roots exposed, dry,


              and I am smacking her flank,

I’m holding her collar and hitting my

      dear shelter-rescue dog—

                           shouting Bad Dog, Bad—


and shoving her speckled muzzle down

      into the crummy hole to show

her just what she has done—

                                            my dog who

doesn’t know why I am doing what 

      I’m doing,

           her memory of the dig long

gone, how her tidy paws rooted, bent

      on seizing some invading beast

that she must grab before  

                                    it gets away—

      and I know I am not being just,

know even as my hand comes down

      that it’s not her, and not the hole, not

even the tomatoes—

                                    it’s the new drips

      and drugs, the side effects, the blank

chemo stare, the flesh

                                    that vanishes

      despite me from my husband’s raked


            instead I hit her while the tears

      bang down my cheeks,

                                    I am breaking

her heart.  I am

                        breaking mine.



Judith Montgomery

Echo Baby Blue

--for Colleen


            Blue’s how baby eyes begin. 

Even yours set to blue because you’re 

      two four six eight   multiplying cells

but bent and busted, baby-buggy

      stopped too quick off centerline.  

Sweet kiddo, who would not hum

      straight into my waiting womb. 

Caught, stuck in the Fallopian chute. 

      Ectopic.  So they tell me while we

watch you on the ultrasound, docked

      and riding out ripples busy busy getting

ready to be   


            my baby    you, a shimmy in

the spotlight.  I play brave as any good

      girl staring down the needle stuck into

my skin   letting mr. methotrexate in—

      your name, Kate, on his calling card. 

To get you     before you get me.  Me  

      a little bit pregnant    one more night. 

Go home they say, call us when,

      press cotton tight to the needle-hole  

so mr. methotrex   AKA death    can’t

      slide back


            out   Do you have some body?

they ask me.  I say sure   not telling

      how he said bye, baby. . . . Now,

home, pet rabbit nibbles at my toes. 

      I can cradle her—she’s not the one

who’s dead but    doesn’t know it . . .

      now mr. death slipslides, top hat

and tails—your Fred Astaire tap

      tapping past each rib, dance

card in his hand . . . says


               may I have this. . .they made me

hold out my ice arm   where he

      could begin his tango to the tube. 

Check for blood    they said.  Call

      us if.   Call us when.   But no spotted

cotton.  O sweetrunt   Katy Kate 

       Don’t make me        choose—     

I have to lose you, loose

      you   have to


            come back in.  They measure

out my blood.  Not yet.   Insist 

      admission.  I admit    nothing   

but mr. death.   Every girlname tastes  

      of ash and cigarette.  The nurse not

looking at the white line that’s

      my mouth not trembling . . . holds

out the slitted gown.  They lie me   

      lie us  


down to snake plastic tubes

in for lull-a-bye    sleep-eggs

      sliding down the bottle vein    

suckblip       blip     here we go 

      ’round the mulberry    ashes ashes  

all fall   down    ring-around-the   

      rosy     where my mama    untied  

me       cut/uncut    too-


            soon baby      gloved and white-tie’d  

doctors two-step    tip-tap       echo  

      ice-light    mothermayI   have this    

lullaby    baby only   one of us  

      can curtsey   off    this dancefloor 

count down 

      they tell  me


                and I    

      one   hundred   oh     ninety-   

           nine      oh   soon  we’ll not 

      be pregnant any     not          

           even   a little     ninety-     


      oh blue-baby      

                         you can’t count

      on me   

                  no more



JUDITH MONTGOMERY's poems appear in the Bellingham Review, Cimarron Review, Prairie Schooner, and MARGIE: The American Journal of Poetry, among other journals, and in a number of anthologies. Her first collection, the chapbook Passion, received the 2000 Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Her second, Red Jess, a finalist for several first-book competitions, appeared in 2006 from Cherry Grove Collections. Pulse & Constellation, a finalist for the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition, appeared in 2007 from the Press. She is working on two new manuscripts, Litany for Wound and Bloom, and Mutable Flame.



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