As the nurses pushed your bed into the OR, you extended your arms toward us, & we promised we’d take you to see the flamingos in the hospital garden downstairs. When you woke up, you refused to pee on the diaper underneath you (you’d been potty-trained for months), so we brought the bedpan & explained you couldn’t walk yet, but soon. I learnt to listen to your monitor in my sleep. The worried aren’t supposed to be hungry, but I ordered food because it was reassuring to know there was someone grilling chicken in a restaurant in the city in the outside which still existed. I decided to google Lady Gaga & watch her videos. I contemplated dyeing my hair red. The day they took you out of the ICU, I left
to take a shower at home. On my way to the kitchen, my hair dripping, my arms full of laundry, for a second I must have forgotten my step, twisted & cracked my ankle. I hollered until the pain settled. Your father was with you. Your grandmother held your little sister & called out to God. I called a friend & leaned on him until we reached the car. In the ER, all I could do was laugh. I who can barely handle a blood test, or a mild fever, or even ultrasound gel on my stomach, I who can’t hold still enough for an X-ray, laughed & told the doctor to fix my ankle, quick, I have a daughter waiting in a room upstairs, yes, here, in this hospital,
isn’t this funny? This is not about heroism. This is not about selflessness, for you know too well how many times I’ve refused to play cards with you, how many times I’ve failed to listen, how I obsess & disappear in search of words I don’t always understand. Perhaps this is an apology. Perhaps I’m saying life will sometimes infect your daughter’s lung & fracture your ankle in the same week. & most days, the car doesn’t break down, & the children are healthy, & your husband loves you, but you will be terrified nevertheless, & sometimes empty. It’s ok if you forget to put one foot in front of the other. & please call me. I love you. I will tell you again about that afternoon we both sat in wheelchairs, I with my leg cast, you with your IV, ate mashed potatoes, watched the flamingo sculptures, which you probably knew couldn’t be entirely delivered from the stone they’re made of, but still pointed, Look, mama— this one is bending toward the water, this one is balancing on one leg, this one is about to fly.
ZEINA HASHEM BECK is a Lebanese poet. Her second full-length collection, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her first book, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, the Academy of American Poets, Poetry London, and World Literature Today, among others. Her poem, “Maqam,” won Poetry Magazine’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize. She lives in Dubai, where she has founded the poetry collective PUNCH. www.zeinahashembeck.com.