The fingers lie in the lap,
separate, lonely, as in the field
the separate blades of grass
shrivel or grow tall.
We sat together in the little room,
the walls blotched with steam,
holding the baby as if the two of us
could breathe for him and were not helpless.
Upstairs, his sister turned in her sleep
as the phone rang—
to have wakened to a child’s cry,
gagged and desperate,
and then repeat that terror when the call
split the quiet house and centered
its dire message:
a child was dead
and his mother so wrung by grief
she stared and stared
at the moon on its black stalk,
the road glistening like wire.
Rubbing the window clear of steam
as a child rubs sleep from its eyes,
and looking past the fence to where
he had plunged the sled up and down the hill,
we could still see the holes his feet made,
a staggered row of graves
extracting darkness from the snow.
When morning brought the new year in,
the fever broke, and fresh snow
bandaged the tracks on the hill.
For a long time we stayed in the room,
listening to him breathe,
like refugees who listen to the sea,
unable to fully rejoice, or fully grieve.
From The Forces of Plenty (1983)
© 1983 Ellen Bryant Voigt