Nancy Reddy

First Light

Astronomers tilt the telescope to gaze at distant galaxies,
and we can see the early universe in the light that finally finds us:

the blue-streaked whorls of hydrogen, the knotted
newborn stars. The universe was, for millions of years,

full only of the darkest dark, the just-born elements clustering
and joining, until all at once, like the bright quick heat

of a good idea or a dividing cell: starlight,
and all the heavy atoms that give us this good life

formed inside those blazing short-lived stars. We can only see
the places in the universe the light has touched. We have to learn

to look, the way that, one October afternoon, I lay against
the crinkling paper of the exam table while the nurse

swabbed gel across my belly, and in the night sky
of the uterus, on the grayscale screen of a handheld sonogram,

we saw it all at once: the striations of muscle and space,
the stuttering and blinking, the insistent flicker of a beating heart.



The Sun King Invents Stirruped Birth

The queen’s anointed body
can’t be touched by common hands. She labors
in a draped room where women tend her,
the doctor sheeted and concealed. We forget now

how small they were, how poor
before the riches of the new world
turned the old world golden. The king wants
the world revealed. His mistress

is cloaked in fine cloth but proximate, her body
a display case. He has his doctors
hold her open so that he can see inside her
when the baby’s coming. The speculum

is born this way. She labors watched and spread.
She labors on her back for better looking. There are no limits
to how and when and where a king can look.


In the history written by a man, the mistress (there were many) goes unnamed. It was most likely Louise de la Valliere, who bore five children to the king, of whom only the last two lived past infancy. The pregnancies are staggeringly close. She gave birth sometimes twice in the same year. To conceive again that quickly the baby must have been taken to a wet nurse immediately after birth. In her last year guilt gripped her and she retired to a nunnery, repenting the sin of lying with a man she seems to have loved but who wasn’t hers to hold.


Louis XIV waged war
after war and when he finally died
his debt-crippled, famine-hunted subjects
jeered the funeral procession as it passed.



Nancy Reddy’s, Double Jinx, was a winner of the National Poetry Series and was published by Milkweed Editions, and her chapbook Acadiana, winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition, was published by Black Lawrence Press. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blackbird, Colorado Review, The Gettysburg Review, Pleiades, Smartish Pace, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and grants from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. She teaches writing at Stockton University in New Jersey.