Poems by Athena Kildegaard




A zoo-worker sat down
facing the cage,
pulled up her blouse
and opened her left breast
to her small son.
Here, here is the way,
she was showing
the mama orangutan
who didn’t know
what to do, being alone
with her infant,
no mama of her own.
What no one saw
was how the milk came down
as if every blossom
on a cherry tree opened
at once. How
the small warm mouth filled
with her ripe flesh.
What no one saw
was how four hearts beat as one.




“At first it was kind of amusing”
——————-Billie Jean King


My whole family watched Apollo rise,
turned Land O’Lakes milk cartons
into rockets, stayed up for the moon
landing. We watched Watergate,
my parents’ pace of smoking speeding
up with the revelations. My father
would cuss and stomp into the kitchen
to refill his whiskey. And when
the Battle of the Sexes aired, in B&W,
we watched every game and set.
Sometimes, in those days, we tarried
at the round maple kitchen table past dinner,
my sister’s and my voices rising to shout
down our father’s arguments. What is a right
and who decides which rights apply to whom? We knew
what equality could look like.
He sat at the head of the table.
Quiet, he’d say, or the neighbors will hear you.
Mrs. Peterson followed her husband even
out the back door. Oh, Billie Jean, how
I’m cheering for you still today. Maybe
it was devil’s advocacy, but our father
cheered for Bobbie, that weaselly little
man, who seemed to shrink with every set. Oh,
Billie Jean, how your tennis whites glowed.


Athena Kildegaard‘s most recent book of poetry is Prairie Midden (Tinderbox Editions). Her poems have appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Colorado Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She teaches at the University of Minnesota Morris.



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