Frenchman's Bay, Maine

Frenchman's Bay, Maine

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Praise the Unlikely

I wrote this poem a few years ago, in response to an assignment given by my Portland writing group. Wendy said, "why don't we write a poem in praise of something unlikely..." and I thought of the incubator where I spent a month as a newborn. Not that I remember anything -- but my parents recall plenty and have shared the details with me. So here it is.


You’ve seen old-fashioned isolettes—
glassed-in box, simple warming element,
spartan decor. Ohio, the Bucyrus Hospital
nursery for premature babies. In JFK’s
and Jackie’s era; their son Patrick, born
early, lost to hyaline membrane disease.

Oxygen piped in, titrated, but the outcome
uncertain on infant retinas. Bleach scrub,
pHisohex, the whiff of dirty diapers,
and my newlywed mother, permitted only
to stare at her naked infant— flushed,
bawling. The nineteen-fifties, when preemies
were to be seen, not touched. Echoes of
that lady from church & her pronouncement,
“your baby could be blind, or slow, or both.”

Finally, a month later, mom lifting
Laura, hardly bigger than a hamster,
from the incubator – peach fuzz hair, powdered
flesh – dressing her daughter for the first time
in a pink smock, embroidered socks,
rubbing each scrubbed knee and toe, making sure
to memorize every curve, every bump
before the long drive home to Oregon.

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