Lengthy Poem Contest

The girl with the red stroller

Ana Reisens


I cannot hold the spring.


Spring has slipped on its floral coat and crabapple petals line the gravel. A family passes. The man carries his sweater over his shoulders. The woman wears white gloves. Behind them, a girl pushes a stroller. It’s large and red and meant for more than the plastic doll nestled inside, pale eyelids bobbing. Every few steps the girl stops to arrange its invisible needs – a blanket, a whimper, the shade. I watch the trees sway as the man and woman pass and the girl pushes the red stroller and I don’t know why, suddenly, the petals feel so heavy.


The petals are heavy beneath the stroller
as the girl pushes forward,

draped in her make-believe.
We, too, wear costumes.

The man steps with heavy shoes.
Father, father, they crunch.

The woman walks suspended by a silver thread –
one glace forward, another back. Mother.

The girl walks alone but somehow
is still held against her mother’s breast.

Meanwhile the spring. Meanwhile the finches
and the petals and the breeze.

The earth knows the secret to any costume
is to never let it grow too heavy.


The stroller becomes too heavy for the girl and the family stops beside a painted bench. A wren thrills its protest and the mother turns to say something to the girl.


My mother once said that the earth was glass
and that I must never buy myself flowers.
She said that women are meant to be hungry 
and that’s why hens can’t fly.

My mother once said that breasts were nests                                   
and that finches wouldn’t land in willows.
She said I must carry my memories in a handbag
and paint my lips red every day.

My mother once said
she had forgotten
how to fly

and I believed her.


I believe the girl could have chosen another costume.
What about a princess, or sorceress, or unicorn?
Or how about a gardener, or artist, or teacher?
That’s not to mention astronaut. Olympian.
Superhero. (We can be these now, too.

Isn’t there time enough for diapers
and handbags? Oh, what the little girl
might have been without the stroller.


Without the stroller / the girl might have:

muddied her skirt in the puddles / chased after aphids /
dug tunnels beneath the moss / painted her name
in bark / sipped tea with the daffodils / visited
the finches’ village / rubbed honey on her skin /
translated the slick language of the wren / grown
feathers / become hooves / run / leapt /danced / been
a petal / a giggle / a willow/ anything
but a mother.


A petal is anything but a mother.
It is a sister, perhaps, or

a mistress – a history
of another woman’s bliss.

It is a feather,
a priestess,

the melody we would sing
if only we remembered


I remember the day my grandmother explained that music was memory and the piano bench was heavy because we were not meant to rise. She said that melody was in the counting. One, two, three, four. Repeat. I learned from the same books she used to teach my mother and she gave me a red sticker when I memorized a new song. My grandmother explained that melody was a hen and there was no use imagining it could be any different. She said that everything must be repeated, that this is all we have been given.


Is it all she was given?
The girl, I mean.
Is it all she has to play with?

I imagine the family entering the store,
the grey sweater and silver thread.
How they turn into the aisle

lined with bobbing eyelids and pink boxes.
My mother once said that hens can’t fly
because they’re meant to raise chicks.

Meanwhile the aisles. Meanwhile
fertility rates and sermons and price tags.
There is a hunger in this world

that runs on little girls who learn
they’re meant to push red strollers.
This, we are told, is a gift.


Was it a gift? The red stroller,
I mean. Was it an inheritance?
An artifact passed down
from her mother’s mother,
a moth-eaten coming-of-age?

My sister was seven
when she got her first doll.
It was a porcelain
gift from Grandma,
a family tradition.
Its eyes were glass
and its lips were
painted red.

I did not want a doll.

I played with velveteen

I learned to speak to things:
the willows
            by the lake,
                         the aphids.

At night my mother would call me
to come inside because
it was getting dark and ask
if I could bring her handbag.
It was heavy, like a piano bench.

Sometimes I ran around the house,
pretended to be
           an ant,
                          an aphid,
a wind
that lived in a moss-covered world
made of more than mothers.


In the worlds made of more than mothers, the women are willows. They hold vigil by the river and beat open drums. At night they drink from silver bowls and feast on the moonlight that pools in the leaves. The women sing melodies even the nightingale has forgotten. They float like petals and build boats from the rain, their unpainted bodies slick with mud. They are thunder and fireflies and rivers all at once, spinning with the drumbeats of the earth.


My mother once said that the earth
was made of glass and that every woman

pushes a red stroller. Each mother
passes it to her daughter and so it goes,

a song we must all memorize.
We keep repeating. We keep counting.


 I count the petals on the gravel path.
The family stands, and the little girl
walks away. It’s getting late.

My mother once said
that it was too late for her
but I could still walk away

and I believed her.

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