Everything Shifts to This Center
Nurse (great white form) pins him
(a wrestle-hold) strong black hands
hold fast his thin arms;
doctor searches small,
bruised wrist for best vein;
shining liquid slips in:
chemo will first poison,
then, perhaps, release;
I pat his little foot, watch,
as everything shifts to this center.
His strangled cry — silver-bright
needlepoint of human sound
in the white, throbbing room.
“Mama — hurts-a-me! burns-a-me!”
Cradle him, tell him stories:
“Remember, that time, on the beach,
your red shovel, and sister,
burying your feet?”
We have learned to rock
upon this brink.
“Remember: you asked the name
for gull, then dashed into the sea?”
Hollow needles’ steady pulse,
draw hope inside.
Drop by drop, I sit and watch,
each drop a jewel of light.
Nurses learn to live with it, but,
in their first year here,
the young ones
sob in the bathroom.
Through corridors of neither night
nor day, mothers rush, rumpled
and wild-haired, on endless missions:
Ice to the fever, blanket to the chill.
In the concentration of will
that holds back the avalanche
their teeth ring with dread.
Fathers slump, humbled and silent,
in bedside chairs, mark
(with barely rising eyelids) the passage
of white coats (tubes, tape, pills,
tears, fate, bills.) Illness
has been their Delilah.
More vividly witnessed now — inner images:
uncertainty spiraling out toward infinity,
escaping their clenched fists.
They prod his tiny scrotum,
his liver, his lungs,
speak ciphers, side effects, reckonings, drugs,
cell counts and secondary infections.
Parades of calamity roll off their prideful tongues.
Then, examinations done,
they wave (in sickening, mock frivolity)
lollipops, before the cowering child.
They volley (like imbeciles on holiday)
an inflated rubber glove;
I measure the distance between jobs and sons.
My boy, whose black eyes swim in a sea of pallor,
who shrinks (like time gone backwards)
whose curls fall out, who wakes without his lashes.