Excerpts > Winterr 2002

Marcella Fleischman Pixley
Four Poems

Lessons in Dying

We found it in the hospital parking lot
new-born, writhing, stretched along the concrete
like a woman's unwanted fetus.
It curled and bent, alien and papery.
Half emerged from the shell, it stirred and lived.

We set it on Father's desk
and you showed me how to wrap the body in cotton,
how to use the eye-dropper
when it stretched its neck, beak opening,
eyes blind as watermelon seeds, blue and lidded,
the spider web skin tight across the ribcage,
impossible and thin as sunburn peelings.
When I took the back of my thumb
and brushed it across the belly,
I could have been touching the skin of a butterfly.

All summer long doctors gave us his odds,
measured and unmeasured his chances,
ten to one, twenty to one, bare percentages
we repeated to each other over dinner
a litany of numbers—and Father
got better or worse, he ate or didn't eat, and you
would call me from the hospital with news:
they gave him a bath today,
he opened his eyes, took some water,
turned over on his own. The unbearable miracles of dying.

The morning our bird gave up the ghost,
you woke me early and led me to Father's study.
Look at it, you said to me, and I looked
at the startling body, at how it seemed to curl
into itself like a hand finally closing its fingers.

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