After settling my son into his sleeper
I sneeze; he screams; my head cramps
in fear my singing so close by his ear
will have made him sick.
I’m up with him, a writhing bundle
of groans and kicks and fist-swings,
through first light. When he drops off,
slump-necked, sucking air up his nose
in little bumps, I’m sniffling into tissues,
counting back one, two, seven weeks,
to our last night in the hospital
and the video we watched — I guess
it was a documentary — in which
a young boy’s mother speaks
of her son happily,
then her voice begins to break
as she recounts a phone call
she made to her son’s father.
In most cases, the perpetrator is male,
and a relative of the child —
the father. Ushered into a room,
then handed a doll and asked
to demonstrate how,
the dead boy’s father grips the doll
beneath each arm and push-pulls
the silent object, speaking
in short bursts of thought.
The doll’s head waggles like a tongue.
At the end, the mother stands
before a classroom of dazed teenagers
and tells them it can happen in an instant.
Anything can happen that fast.
They look bored, the teenagers,
not sobered. You can see their pipes
filling with water, cage doors dropping,
their hands grabbing sawdust,
their eyes washed from feeling everything
more intensely than ever before
then having to keep feeling.
We shut off the television,
checked the box on the form
we owed the nurses before checkout.
I expressed shock at how often
it was the father.
I was a father.
I had just taken off my shirt
and held my naked newborn son to my chest,
covered him with a blanket,
hummed a tune I made up to soothe him,
felt him melt into sleep against me.
I had to counterbalance that
with this new potentiality,
this other father I might become.
My head waggled like a doll’s.
A wall of water rose to engulf me.