Twenty–Four-Week Preemie, Change of Shift

We’re running out of O2
screaming down the southwest freeway in the rain
the nurse-practitioner and me
rocking around the back of an ambulance
trying to ventilate a preemie with junk for lungs
when we hit
rush hour

Get us the hell out of here

You bet the driver said and pulled right onto the median strip
with that maniacal glee they get

I was too scared for the kid and drunk with the speed
the danger—that didn’t feel like danger at all
it felt like love—to worry about my life
Fuck that

Get us back to Children’s so we can put a chest tube in this kid

And when we got to the unit
the attending physician—Loretta—was there
and the nurses
and the residents
they save us
Loretta plants her stethoscope on the kid’s chest
and here comes the tech driving the portable X-ray
like it’s a Porsche—ah Jesus he says
the baby’s so puny he could fit on your dinner plate

X-ray says the tech
and everybody backs up, way back
except for Loretta
so the tech drapes a lead shield over her chest

X-ray says the tech

there’s a moment after he cones down the lens
just before he shoots

you hold your breath, you forget
what’s waiting
back at your house

Nobody blinks
poised for that sound that radiological
meep

 and Loretta with her scrub top on backwards
so you can’t peep down to her peanutty boobs
Lorreta with her half-Chinese, half-Trinidadian
half-smile
Loretta, all right, ambu-bagging the kid
never misses a beat
calm and sharp as a mama-cat who’s kicked the dog’s butt
now softjaws her kitten out the ditch

There’s a moment
You can’t even hear the bag
puffing
quick quick quick
before the tech shoots
for just that second
I quit being scared
I forgot to be scared

God

How can people abandon each other?

 

From the book Dark Blonde: Poems by Belle Waring (Sarabande Books, 1997). Copyright © Belle Waring. Reprinted with permission of Sarabande Books.

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