Clean and uncoaxed, I was summoned
when they drew me from the womb.
An angel told my mother of my coming.
I heard this story again and again: the mortal
in light gingham, her hair beneath a veil
like the blue-eyed Israelite wives on TV.
Her hands clasped over her holy belly. God has heard. You will be the mother of Samuel.
This was Brazil. Christ the redeemer
blazed opposite green mountains,
less green each year by dotting favelas.
My mother lived in the rich valley. The sweat
that clung to her collarbone her own making.
Mother of a prophet. She liked that.
When the doctors said girl, she changed my name
from Samuel to Esther. Prophet to concubine.
Savior of a people my mother didn’t care for.
Esther was not summoned. Her great deed
was going forward, regardless.
My mother didn’t hold me for two days.
Once, she believed she was the flame-headed
child of commonplace parents, about to slip
into her glory as she would an evening gown.
Socialite. Painter. Missionary.
Matrimony was her genius.
She married to defect from China.
Once more to defect from Hong Kong.
And, in between, once, to a man already married,
his wife so meek my mother mistook her
for the family servant. In this way,
my mother was another Esther. The name means hidden one. In a harem, one among many.
Samuel was eleven when he heard the call.
He woke in his little chamber in the rear
of the temple and answered, Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.
My mother knew no call would come for me,
no flame would burnish my brow.
If I am a prophet, I am one who divines
what has already passed.
My sight is unclear,
the entrails never auspicious.
• • •
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ANNIE WOODFORD was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and lived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant for twenty-one years. She is a 2020 Writing Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, a 2017–19 Wallace Stegner Fellow, and author of The Ghost Wife (Poetry Society of America 2017). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Hyperallergic, the New England Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Currently she organizes for the Undocupoets, which promotes the work of undocumented poets and raises consciousness about the structural barriers they face in the literary community.