Another from my latest series
Shirley lay in the bed
in her prim, backless robe,
surrounded by the breath of other mothers
and the milky scent of babies.
Her own newest child lay beside her, as wrinkled
as an apple past its prime, but active
and large in the bassinet.
It waved one hand,
inchoate and curled, at its mother
as she filled in the cards.
The labor had been easy;
as painful as the last one, but over fast.
Tom was at home with the girls-
she could trust him that far-
and though she missed him she reveled
in the eerie half-silence of the room she shared
with five other girls.
There was no need for pretense here.
The other mothers on the ward burbled softly,
to each other and their fresh spawn.
A smile from Shirley was all they required.
They left her alone.
She loved a night without drunk-talk,
a night without wariness, or a visit from her in-laws.
She did not have to worry
about red-headed Janet, her little, lying
five-year-old girl who said such things
about her Granpy. Lisping him, ‘wicked’.
Shirley did not worry about the way
Joyce shied away from treats or touching,
the way she gnawed on bloodied nails,
chipping her milk-teeth.
She did not have to think
about where the money would come from,
this month, or how they would afford
both beer and food.
She thought about her brand-new baby,
so perfect, so quiet, the round apple-head
dusted with soft black hair.
She lay her fourth-decade ear
across that five-day-old chest
and heard the stuttering beat of that small heart,
already terribly flawed.
Shirley breathed in the scent of vomit and Pine-Sol
and thought about the ache between her legs.
Her Presbyterian ethic had leeched to her marrow,
always incapable of enjoying a vacation,
she wondered when she would
be well enough to work again.
Shirley filled in Christmas cards,
her neat secretary’s hand, architectural as printing,
scribing out five names after ‘Love’.
Tom, Shirley, Janet, Joyce and our new baby, Lilly.
The letters were all stamped and mailed
before she found the body cold.