Heroic Crown of Sonnets by Sara Moore Wagner

I’ll Wear This Crown for the Ruined World


To not fear any dark, to see the sky 

as opening like a body or field, 

to be given a rake in my backyard, 

told tame the wilderness or become 

wilderness, wild as a factory plume,

smoke that blends with clouds until the sky is 

a factory and we are going in 

punching our timecards like we used to do, 

working so many hours we miss eating

the bread our mother bakes. We, missionaries, 

smoothing the ozone like a chunk of land, 

like the dimples on a woman’s low back, 

we put our finger in there, make it ours. 

We’ve been made for this tending, we shape it. 


We’ve been made for this tending, we shape it 

into a top hat we place on the head 

of our blue god, leader high in his gold 

room, turning on a gilded platform more 

grotesque every moment, here are his teeth, 

worms, his hands hurricanes on another 

shoreline, not ours, and from his ears, locusts 

from his ears: rolls of paper towels to dry 

the spillage beneath him, how it clings to 

every bird, to every girl, to her, born 

hatless with bare feet. In the morning, she 

is consuming the waste of what’s been made: 

magazines all plastered with her half face. 

Another prophesy to throw away. 


Another prophesy to throw away: 

Her sky face like an image in a shroud, 

she’s tearing through the clouds like a curtain, 

ushering in the next night, we’re awake 

by an old fire, the ground is all fires, 

the sky is on fire, the sea is on 

fire, the plastic melting into one face is 

her face, she is above us and below, 

rocking out the vertebrae from every 

body, the longest oldest one, a scorpion 

in the sand and in her hand is backbone.

Call her father, call her husband, call her 

nothing, put her into her grave of moon, 

sing a tune to her mother—I’m sorry.


Sing a tune to our mother—I’m sorry 

I’ve left the world in such a state, sorry you

left the world, for the flowers on your grave, red 

and plastic. Remember that day we went 

out on the river in the little boat 

we made and you saw all that lilac, blue 

and violet and you said “Violent,” 

and we laughed at the idea, that a bank 

of the river could bloom violent, could 

look like a split open body, could spill 

itself into the clear water where we 

catch and release minnows, as you did when 

you were a girl, as you tell me all girls 

should, remember—we were also caught in waves. 


Should remember we were also caught in waves, 

should check our face in the mirror before the day 

starts slow and we’re birthed on the beach, all 

seedy, covered in our father’s seed which falls 

out of the sky as ash does. On the day 

the world is over, we’ll stand open-mouthed 

expecting snowflakes, manna, milk. We’ll wait 

for another birth to come like the first. 

In the Bible, where are the verses for 

the girls, for the Mother who art in seed, 

who art in ocean, who art in that blue 

deep, taking the wind to be breath of father. 

We should remember we are made of salt, 

made of water, of open mouth—open. 


Made of water, of open mouth, open 

the door to the gate where the ending lives, 

and in the Bible, Enoch, seven lives 

from Adam, said behold the Lord came with 

many thousands to execute. Restrained 

creature now released. Tell me, my father 

what is it you’ve been holding back? Go to 

the end and show me the allotted bits

you’ve held from my lips, see all these sweet buds

blossom around us, the painted sky. See 

how a butterfly wing looks like an eye, how 

even this can hold back a predator. 

I am counting down the days until you 

show me what real desolation looks like.


Show me what real desolation looks like. 

I’ve been sitting all day near riverbank 

and some were tied feet to neck, circle girls 

rolling, some were burned, some had names burned on

their arms, some were carried upside down, skirts 

obscuring the faces and all we could see,

all we still see is the line of blood seep

from between the legs. Some were not taken 

like this, you’re right, were not raped. Someone said

wait: she has her father’s eyes. Sacrifice.  

Let her go. In the multitudes suffering  

there is a voice saying more is coming, 

God is still holding back a child over 

the canyon by the foot. She is our child. 


The canyon by the foothill is our child, 

the gas station by the overpass: our 

child, the lonely dessert, the sperm whales, the 

forest fires, the waves of information 

in the air birthed by the cracked pelvises 

we carry in our torsos—and Christ says 

the first sign of the end will be the birth 

pains. Tell him what we carry with us since 

before his forced conception, since before 

Mary bore down in in a barn and he laid  

in a manger, shepherds keeping watch o’r

the boy and not the mother, shuddering 

placenta out into the hay, manger, 

the star, our child. Those afterbirth pains—ours. 


The star, our child, those afterbirth pains, our 

face in the stained glass in the last tall church, 

steeple grotesque pointed to the sky. We 

are God’s vessels, put on the earth to take 

a blessing according to our natures, 

which have always been lower, these open 

wounds we carry between our legs. The way 

we call him in. And doesn’t every god 

come to us in this way, implant us with 

the seed of something ripping us apart—

Helen, Clytemnestra. We are a bath 

full of blood. We are carrying severed 

heads of our husbands. Our mouths are full of 

prayers: Make us a new world. Let it be ours. 


Prayer: Make us a new world. Let it be ours. 

Daughter who comes from the sky like mother. 

You are the one who tells us to lie down 

in a green pasture, that our days of tend

and toil are done. Give us a godless world. 

Strip the God from the breast of men in one 

motion like taking off nail polish. Sand 

the stone. Build our houses upon sand, soft 

enough to take us back into the sea. Give 

us a quiet world, cloudless, father-less,  

less mechanical, less proud. We are not 

thinking about ourselves today, but the 

worms, how to make them a home somewhere 

less prone to decay and destruction. Less. 


Less prone to decay and destruction, less 

ready with a knife to her throat, less undone  

in a small hut, the one who brings our end 

is less likely to stand, to pocket her hands, 

to mow the grass, less bowed at the foot of

that man who wants the world as it is, oil 

spilling into the sea, the smoke of all 

our work. This is the world God built for us.

The world we fell into, wings out, mouths full 

of apple. We need something else. Let me 

tell you what that looks like. I’ve seen it in 

the egg whites dripping into the cup. How 

it’s never been a man driving axe to

wilderness, severing body from the land. 


Wilderness, severing body from the land, 

the old king won’t touch your hands, only grab 

you by the thigh, the place you’ve covered, place 

you hide, pull you into his mouth. Crunch and 

belch you into the yard where he’s asked them 

to plant flowers. He’ll bury you, grow you, 

buy you an apartment on the west side, 

and through the window you can watch him slide 

in and out of the sky. He is God as 

God has always been, as Zeus has always 

been. He is taking the landscape, braiding 

it into a loaf he’ll ask you to bake,

you who made the world this way, your baseness,

nature so ready to bring it all down. 


Nature, so ready to bring it all down

to the specter of what it was before 

any rib cracked. Back when the water was 

so clean we could kneel before it—the bees—

before we wanted to build as far up, 

up to the sky, to look for that God-face. 

We turned the soil over and over 

in our hands then, how we salted the land. 

Ruined it. Here is the volta, it’s not 

where it’s supposed to go, hasn’t followed 

the beat laid down in the first book a man 

said now, this is where you turn away 

from that shepherd with his face shaking no, 

no, no—let me collapse like a blossom. 


No, no—let me collapse like a blossom 

when the ending comes. Don’t make me a new 

world where the chosen rise from the cold grave. 

Make my world father-less. Take away that 

pain of birth, of waiting for the next pain 

to come in a wave. I am the false girl, 

I am the mother in the sky saying time 

to go home now, wash your hair. Devil in 

the dazzling bright. I take the sun away 

from your eyes. I say look away from Christ 

with his outstretched hand of blood saying 

take of my flesh and be whole. No. I am 

crowning myself with disease, see it fall. 

See what it all could be if we let go.


To not fear any dark, to see the sky—

I’ve been made for this tending. I shape it. 

Another prophesy to throw away: 

I sing a tune to my Mother, am sorry, 

should remember we were also caught in waves, 

made of water, of open mouth, open. 

Show me what real desolation looks like. 

The canyon by the foothill is my child. 

The star, my child, those afterbirth pains: mine. 

Prayer: make me a new world. Let it be mine, 

less prone to decay and destruction, less 

wilderness severing body from land. 

Nature, so ready to bring it all down. 

No, no—let me collapse like a blossom. 

Sara Moore Wagner is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors Prize for her book Swan Wife (2022), and the 2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize for Hillbilly Madonna (2022), and the author of two chapbooks, Tumbling After (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2022) and Hooked Through (2017). She is also a 2022 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award recipient, a 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in many journals and anthologies including Gulf Coast, Sixth Finch, Waxwing, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Cincinnati Review, among others.