Breastbone Ode
Judith H. Montgomery

Breastbone Ode

Think gladiolus: not the loud flower flaunting
its frilled petals: bee-worthy, beguiling. Not

the armful of flagrant blaze, but that interior
sword-lily, our hardy armor, pale bone shield

buttressed by clavicle and rib, our tender heart’s
defense—manubrium, gladiolus, xiphoid process— 

Greek and Latin names for handle, body, sword-
tip. O valiant breastbone, anchor for our ribs’

bony branches as they lace up the pierced cage
that guards us against injury, buffers our so-

vulnerable organ against accident (steering-wheel’s
wild lunge, oak branch’s blunt spear, some stop

sign hurled from hurricane or heaven). Let us
honor the body’s gladiator, our sturdy buckler

as we cocky ever-adolescents whim and wing
from rock to ripple, daring disaster. Praise each

our humble breast-bone, sternum, gladiolus,
whatever name we give it—our best defense,

our bulwark, our necessary intercessor.

Judith H. Montgomery

has contributed poems to Ars Medica, Cimarron Review, Measure, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, and Cave Wall, among other journals and anthologies. Her first collection, Passion, received the Oregon Book Award for poetry. Her second collection, Red Jess, and her third, Pulse & Constellation, followed. She has been awarded fellowships in poetry from Literary Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission to work on a new manuscript.