Knopf Poem-a-Day: April 24, Edward Hirsch’s “Milk”


Today, Edward Hirsch on a forbidden subject. This poem is from the “New” section in The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, a book covering a wide-ranging career in poetry that balances the quotidian and what is often inexpressible within and beyond it—the irrational forces of love, inspiration, grief, beauty.


My mother wouldn’t be cowed into nursing
and decided that formula was healthier
than the liquid from her breasts.

And so I never sucked a single drop
from the source, a river dried up.
It was always bottled for me.

But one night in my mid-thirties
in a mirrored room off Highway 59
a woman who had a baby daughter

turned to me with an enigmatic smile
and cupped my face in her chapped hands
and tipped her nipple into my mouth.

This happened a long time ago in another city
and it is wrong to tell about it.
It was infantile to bring it up in therapy.

And yet it is one of those moments—
misplaced, involuntary—that swim up
out of the past without a conscience:

She lifts my face and I taste it—
the sudden spurting nectar,
the incurable sweetness that is life.

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Learn more about The Living Fire and browse other titles by Edward Hirsch.

Excerpt from THE LIVING FIRE © 2010 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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