by Sara Backer
She grips a damp sponge while the needle
shoots under her skin, scorching the roots
that invade her chin—tenacious hair,
impervious to bleach, that only grows
stronger and thicker when plucked.
The current stings her eyes,
those crucial salty tide pools,
locked in water under bedrock skull.
Why can’t she accept these hairs
that thrive in the shadow of her jaw?
Lots of lightly-bearded older women
appear sage and content.
Like men with bald bosoms,
they have broached the gap between the sexes,
reconciled with men and their own manliness.
No—she’s not ready. She didn’t get
to make the children she wanted. She never grew
eyelashes and hair inside her womb.
Forgive her, then, the pretense
of unfinished youth in her middle age.
Her iron-flecked blood still pulses with the tide,
though vanity and death swim side by side.
He’s being tested and I’m being tested,
too, on how well I wait for his results.
I’m not good at magazines or the window
facing the hospital’s new brick wall
and a slice of granite rain. I can’t
chew gum or rummage in my purse.
I’m not even good at plastic chairs
scooped to cup human butts.
The others waiting stare at me.
An older woman speaks. “What’s wrong
with your husband? He looked real bad.
Is he dying?” She has chisel eyes, curly
shavings of white hair, a hardwood cane
hooked over her fragile balsa wrist,
and I could break each of her fingers
for trying to count her blessings off me.
I can’t talk yet. I can’t let words,
like pomegranate seeds, connect me here.
I still want to wake up, free
of the past week. He eats only a spoonful
of rice, only a few sips of water, each day
mumbling how breathing is such a burden,
such a nuisance . . .
The chisel says, “Thank God for Jesus,
that’s what I say.”
The lab nurse beckons–her puppet, I jump up.
I am not ready for Jesus; I want luck.
Sara Backer‘s poetry has recently appeared in in The Pedestal, Conclave (Featured Poet), Blueline, Ellipsis, and Hobo Camp Review. She was awarded a Norton Island Artist residency last summer. This year, she is entering first-book poetry contests which has led to a hobby of researching the nature of luck.