Friday Poem: “Terribly Involved” by Emma Neale


A new poem by Dunedin poet and novelist Emma Neale.

Terribly involved

I’m lying here at night next to our son’s hospital bed
her warm little hand in mine
while in the next bay another child was crying,
empty chairs watched by his side.
Safe after surgery, our son slept, if intermittently;
this nine-month-old baby, not at all.

Her moan was so cold and sorry
I remembered an image from a long-forgotten movie:
a blind arctic fox trotted on the ice
which broke and thus calved a small pack ice
took it out to sea, alone.

I slipped to stand by the metal bed
near the baby in its nest of tubes and needles.
Hush, hush, baby, I whispered, hey, hey, little baby.
Her cry swelled and then fell like snow.
I called the night nurse, I asked,
can I hold the baby when you are busy, can I touch it safely?

Better not, she said. Parents might not approve.
Half scared to hear, I asked, Where are they?
At home, she answered. They just aren’t very involved.

I’ve been looking for shock or judgment
in the light brackets of his mouth;
wanted to cling to his choice: terribly,
but I saw the exercised calm of his face
simply meant that she had seen much worse.

I then thought of our own first maternity nurse,
the platitudes escaped, cheerful as free brochures:
Babies bring all the love they need.
The headlines said otherwise.
And the abandoned ones, I asked, the abandoned ones?
His response: Their souls are on a journey, to atone for past lives.

Fictions that she told her clients, not having the impression that they were lies.
Homilies to keep coming to his work
where she saw miseries she couldn’t fix
even if she could say, hush, hush, small;
even if she could, once a fortnight, then once a month
for a set time, lift each baby,
give some, briefly, all the love they had come to bear.

The Friday Poem is edited by Chris Tse. Submissions are currently closed.

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