The Lost Daughter

by Laurie Byro
Desert Moon Review
First Place, March 2012
Judged by John Timpane


I have three daughters. They say I snatched them
from the earth. But the first appeared in a sugar cube I left

on the window one night after the snow-moon was round.
The second I grew from a seed in a brown porcelain cup.

The last came through my belly after I left on a train.
Everything I wanted I kept finding. Others lose a country,

a lover, a key to make things start. I lost my tongue
and the moon. I had to buy back my loss with keening.

I left their dream-music buttoned-up safe on their pillows.
When I knocked on the door of Patience, there was no reply.

I lost the word that contains all the syllables for mother,
for daughter. My mothers-heart knows the salt and sand

of her as she makes herself known to me. When I read
bedtime stories to them, we were afraid of wolves, afraid of lies.

These woods are full of them large or small, slow or stealthy,
they yip and dance before me skirting the fire while braving

the cold. How strong these lies must be to make them
so bold. I know which sleep-songs I shall never toss away.

I am like the stranger at the rail of a ferry. I search for the last
wave of a hand, the names I knew in a dark, sleeping land.


Compelling imagery accretes to produce a story that isn’t one, yet an emotive impression of a story anyway, built of shards, chance look-ins, juxtapositions of startling things (“Others lose a country/ a lover, a key to make things start. I lost my tongue/ and the moon” – the reference to Bishop’s “One Art” is nicely taken, especially since what the speaker loses must coexist with things gathered, things grown and snatched . . . we lose by gaining. The art of having a daughter is the art of losing her). The speaker searches, ransacks an imaginative universe, is turned away (“When I knocked on the door of Patience, there was no reply.”), is ever-departing on train or ferry. Parenting is a process of departure, always, from the child, the “salt and sand” of whom we know, and yet who eludes us and do things we can’t believe, braving fire and cold and showing strength we choose to believe we impart. Plenty of lovely music here, deftly (even if, especially if unconsciously!) massaged. Line 12 is delectable to read aloud. But the cascade of various long and short a sounds in the last couplet is a feast in itself: “I am like the stranger at the rail of a ferry. I search for the last/ wave of a hand, the names I knew in a dark, sleeping land.” We slide from schwas to full-blown long a’s. Just sumptuous, but also a means to finalize the poem, not to end it but rather to conclude our experience of this utterance, cementing the wave, the hand, the darkness. I do love the internal rhyme, too, of the last line. A fabulous fable. ---John Timpane

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