ABC FOR THE CHILD WHO LIVED TWENTY-SIX DAYS
by Deborah Burnham
Air your only appetite, your first food.
Your bones fit, peg in cup.
Creases on your arms.
Down, derry derry derry down your mother sang.
Except for the first cry, you were silent.
Fist-sized head. Fists the size of cherries.
Don’t go. Don’t go. The single prayer.
Half your life, you were too small to hold.
You never said I.
Jasmine, juniper. All the things you never smelled.
What did you know? How did you know?
You knew terrified, ecstatic love.
The moon went through just seven phases.
No pepper, yeast, warm raspberry. But the healing milk.
Paper diaper, paper shirt, paper full of numbers.
To quench your thirst: six drops, or seven, on your lips.
Room for two hands in your small bed.
Slender lines between each heartbeat.
You were one of two. You are, still.
Under the scudding clouds, the owl’s shadow.
Your voice: one cry, a breath cutting a second.
Where did you come from. Where did you go.
Crosshairs of our hearts.
Yet. Still. Abiding.
We wake in the haze of sorrow. A slow breeze
clears the air.
Deborah Burnham has lived in the Powelton area of Philadelphia forever. She walks to work in the English department at Penn where she teaches creative writing and literature, and advises students. She writes long repetitive sequences of poems, then slices and dices.
Image credit: Donnie Nunley on Flickr