Two Poems by Renee Emerson

Open Heart Surgery, Five Months Old

The leak in your breathing
tube makes a cartoon squeak.
It takes two nurses, silent
as nuns, to place you
in my arms. I want you to hear
the mourning dove. I want you
to hear the crickets, for your feet
to be confetti-strewn with wet grass.
A steady infusion of days,
air forced down the throat,
someone trained and always
watching. I ask to hold you again;
we all pretend it is as good as medicine.
I’m thankful there’s no list of my defects
discussed each morning as they decide
how to keep you living. I ask about permanent
damages—they say that ship sailed before birth.
Even those that love us think this all comes
of wanting too much, of adding life to the already
brimming over cup of life. The home is burning,
and we have more than we can carry. So we hold it
in our mouths, in our teeth. We sing over you
every song we know. The operation is tomorrow.


Just as suddenly, we are outcasts
but revered, like priests
or nuns, living a life of deprivation
no one would choose.
At the church potluck, we sit
with the mothers of stillborns.
We leave before the tables take turns
speaking aloud their blessings.
All the families with paper plates
soupy with gravy. Children tagging
between tables, climbing stairs
on the outside of the rail. Babies
are edged away from me subtly,
as if it were catching. More likely,
out of kindness.
Some mothers love this role—
tragic heroine, Mother Mary
at both the cross and manger.
Their eyes glisten brightly
with thoughts of the cold gray
past. I however want nothing
more than a quiet seat at the fire,
and more wood to throw on it.

About the author

Renee Emerson is a homeschooling mom of six, and the author of Church Ladies (forthcoming from Fernwood Press, 2022), Threshing Floor (Jacar Press, 2016),…

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Issue 25 - Spring 2022

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