Those days they kept the broken children

in great brick buildings while underneath 
a tree in the yard a man stood moving an invisible bow 
across a wire hanger tucked under his chin.
I strained to hear the music, but never did. 

Those days I tied diapers around the children’s necks, 
fed them pureed food while in the sunroom, 
behind the wire mesh, one girl spun on her toes, eyes 
wild animals with no escape skidding on blue cement. 

I made beds, folded sheets in tight angles and outside 
dark bodies of elms cut the sun to pieces. On visiting day, 
Olivia’s Aunt Jane came, touched her curls and cried, 
picked her up and sang nursery rhymes to the tune
of the slow moving fan. The girl’s wide tongue 
protruded from her mouth, drool slipped down 
the front of her shirt, limbs hung like putty melting, 
captive in heart-dulled arms. In those days 

the moon came and the tall boy with mismatched 
chromosomes pointed his finger and said the one word 
he knew: mooon—wonder woven in that one syllable. Too late, 
too wild with night-longings, I eased him back to bed, 

put on the johnnie with straps and tied it to the rails. 
In the room across the hall I listened to thick, clotted 
stillness while I matched pajama tops and bottoms. 
My shift ended, the shackle of hours broke, and I left. 

The bus moved through the hackneyed city 
with billowy sighs as the door opened and closed, 
and streetlight fell like stale bread on my lap.
Some died while I was away—

one boy with a head swollen to Wonderland size plunged
out of his chair, skin split, blood everywhere. 
Others slipped away quietly. Bone limbs twisted, 
they forgot the way to take in air, to lift eyelids, to sigh.
But I returned, worked on, lifted arms, birthed heads 
through holes in shirts, led them down windowless halls, 
bathed feverish bodies in shallow, waist-high tubs, 
my own life measured in diapers, spilled milk, sweat. 

Summer came, the wards impossible, strangled 
with tongues of heat. I piled children in a wagon, 
pulled it over broken ground, sang them James Brown—
Baby, baby, baby. Baby, baby, baby.  I got the feeling.

Comstock Review Award Issue
Fall/Winter 2016