Listen to Martha Greenwald reading this poem. —Louisville Children’s Hospital. 4 a.m. Enter the pediatrician in his patriotic scrubs. Yawning, apologetic, he lifts a blue beribboned stethoscope to our infant daughter’s chest and listens. Beneath the sheet, her wired feet swim and dart, toes a school of glowing minnows.
Twice tonight I have half-slept in the recliner
and dreamt of my dead mother at the beach:
Sandy Hook, late summer, the afternoon’s sangria
thermos empty, and on the sand beside her
its wake of wine-soaked rinds—at the surf’s edge,
a mess of putrid Jersey mussels, and beyond
on the horizon, the South Tower, molten with sunset.
Our daughter has too much heart, so tomorrow
they will ligate the extra arch, tangled round
her trachea like seaweed. Pace the ward,
pace the ward. Store more breast milk in the patient
bio-hazard freezer. Pause at the nurse’s station,
stuffed menagerie pawing four-inch stars-and-stripes.
Hi Mom! says the resident. Good morning Dad!
says a nurse. In hospital rhetoric we are everyone’s
mother and father, so the parents we pass sleeping
upright in chairs are also our children, and we are theirs.
We all stare toward televisions hung from curtained
partitions like plants—turbaned blossoms,
camouflage leaves, on every screen, the Taliban.