by James Owens —

Once, he tasted his daughter’s milk.

As we do, he had wrecked his own life,
then came the day he was babysitting,
and it was time to warm the bottle
she had left for his granddaughter,
who was fussing in her high chair,
beginning to think dinner wasn’t coming.

Testing the temperature, he hesitated.
The weight
of the weightless drops
as they pearled on his wrist —
who wouldn’t hesitate before that?

The taste was like nothing much.
Most like, he was dumbly surprised, milk.
He was guilty and did not deserve to know the taste.
He had never nourished anyone,
had only stolen grace from many.

All this was true. He merited nothing.
The baby laughed at his guilt-face.
He gave her the bottle, and she drew out the healthy thread
she would knot into bone and growth,

and here small words are best,
as he burps the baby against his breath
and swings her high to spill more milky laughter,
and some undeserved ease braids the three together,
him, his daughter, the child she made and feeds.

James Owens’s most recent collection of poems is Mortalia (FutureCycle Press, 2015). His poems, stories, and translations appear widely in literary journals, including recent or upcoming publications in Waxwing, Adirondack Review, The American Journal of Poetry, The Honest Ulsterman, and Southword. He earned an MFA at the University of Alabama and lives in a small town in northern Ontario.