Once on a clear night in the spring
I stood in the nurse’s station
with the new boy they brought in,
a black boy with arms as thin
as reaching branches of the lilac
bush and eyes wide as an empty pond.
Blind. Deaf. I perched him
on the counter, lifted a spoon
of applesauce to his lips and watched
as he sucked it in. A dark form
moved in the doorway and the prisoner
came in. Jim. Part of a special
release program. As though throwing
the retarded and the damaged together
would somehow heal them both.
There must have been something
of the dad in him, because he lifted
that sliver of child to his chest
and cuddled him, as if this were
the seed of his race, its scarred
history, as if somehow a man’s voice
and the hardness of his hands
could reach past soundless
dusky shadows, slip into moving blood,
fill an aching belly. He jostled the boy
as if he were a normal child and
for a moment I thought there might
be a reaction, some remnant of a smile
on the boy’s face. But it was really me
Jim had come to see, slipping out
a joint, teasing, trying to pull me out
into the star blown night.
It was a fluke, the way he sucked
the applesauce in. After that no one
could get him to eat, not even
from a bottle, much less a spoon.
They put a tube up his nose,
lay him in a crib in Ward 1
where the hopeless, cripples stayed.
Verse Wisconsin (Summer 2010)