Bed­time story

Prairie Fire - - KERRY RYAN -

Once upon a time your hair was dark as mine.

Your hands were al­ways in fists,

mine al­ways reach­ing.

When you slept, you slept in a bas­ket be­side the bed.

When I slept, I dreamt you were drown­ing

in bed­sheets. Mostly, we stayed up

all night, cry­ing.

It wasn’t love at first sight, de­spite the prom­ises

of what-to-ex­pect lit­er­a­ture.

Your heart rate had fallen

to non-re­as­sur­ing; you were dan­ger

wrenched out of me.

I was bro­ken, not elated.

Your first day on earth your scalp was loose

as a shar-pei’s— boggy the nurse called it—

be­cause you’d been sucked

into the world.

Too ten­der to clean, your soft spot stayed crusted

with the muck of moth­er­hood.

When I tried to de­scribe your hair

to my mother over the phone, I called it grey.

We weren’t al­lowed visi­tors; we re­fused

the hos­pi­tal pho­tog­ra­pher.

I propped you on starchy pil­lows, too afraid

to touch you. I buzzed for help when you hic­cupped.

The night nurse mashed your face into my breast

and you gnawed ab­sently, but didn’t swal­low.

You slept against flu­o­res­cent glare and burned

through your cache of fat. You didn’t want to need me.

The next day, in the hos­pi­tal lobby, I waited

with you, a pink frog strapped into a car seat.

Gush­ing the blood that had sus­tained you, I imag­ined

your fa­ther pay­ing the park­ing fee and driv­ing away

as fast and far as he could.

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