Madonna in Traffic
Your eyes, shunted away in dark
amniotic fluid, what do you see
staring onto Boulder Highway,
mother straddling the island with cars
slipping either side of her waist,
what face do you look upon
stringing headlight to tail with the
unknown family at the intersection?
Her sign is finger painted with magenta
letters but you cannot read the words
Hungry. Pregnant. Need work. Help Please.
You must not know her ringless stranger
as she coughs the cardboard high into the air
then stills your limbs, swinging into the flesh
you now gather. For seven months
you have trailed jobs to cities hot and broken
and once there, the old streets and soda crackers
came easy but inside the cotton dress
that blows towards Lake Mead, you wonder
if the next exit will find the hot meal
promised in long-ago Kansas, or shots
mother missed hitching out here. This road
has grown like a child and nothing, not traffic,
not plain people will shade the world outside
but this small face that crowds her skin,
this membrane she touches
with stomach to sign may as well be
her breathing room where it’s calm and smooth
and that’s how you feed the fetal drum
looking out on this six-lane highway
with all Las Vegas glowing in the mirror
of every timid glance driving home from work.
Madonna in Traffic was copyrighted in 1993 and first appeared in Nevada Weekly, now known as the Reno News and Review. This poem was reprinted with permission in the anthology Tumble Words, Writers Reading the West, edited by William L. Fox, published by the University of Nevada Press.
Find all of Shaun’s published work at your local bookstore here.
To reserve a seat, email Quest Lakes at email@example.com
Shaun Griffin has received numerous awards for his work including the Nevada Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and the Rosemary McMillan Award for Lifetime Achievement in Art. In 2014 he was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.
He is the author of several books of poetry, including This is What the Desert Surrenders and Bathing in the River of Ashes. He’s also written a memoir called Anthem for a Burnished Land and a book of essays about the American West called Because the Light Will Not Forgive Me. He has edited a number of books including Desert Wood, an anthology of Nevada poets; selected poems by Joanne De Longchamps (Torn by the Light); and a volume about poet Hayden Carruth called From Sorrow’s Well. Griffin is also known for his translations of Chilean poet Emma Sepulveda’s Death to Silence, and has worked as a teaching poet at colleges and at writers’ conferences in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant 501c3 nonprofit publication with no paywall, a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, offering unique, differentiated reporting, factual news, and explanatory journalism on the environment, conservation, and public policy, while giving voice to writers, filmmakers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.