He said, Oh, look, I can see the baby’s head—
But what was there? I couldn’t read the screen.
Was I pregnant? Was the baby dead
(Hence the blood)? Or maybe he didn’t mean
That’s what he saw, and it was just a joke?
What kind of doctor makes a joke like that,
Careless to the point of cruelty--
Airs whatever pops into his head without
Thinking it through? And then, what woke
In me that moment, struggling not to be
Faced or expressed? No baby, I was sure.
Pain, days earlier, during the keynote speech
On “flat and rounded characters” (I reach
For something I heard but didn’t fully hear):
What isn’t “rounded” isn’t fully real,
And yet so often it’s peripheral
Comic characters holding up the lamps
Affording us a sudden piercing glimpse
Into ‘the life of things.’ How could the doctor see
With ultrasound what was mattering in me?
And, oh, my happy students, later that same day--
Happily reading Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”--
While I kept inside me what I couldn’t say
And didn’t think was time for them to learn.
Three flies buzz, persistent, around the table,
Making our thoughts zig-zag, as the clock ticks
Louder, their little motors amplified.
There is no silence, no unravished bride,
No foster-child of quiet--the poem sticks
In the throat, half-voiced. And I’m unable
To banish the image that now superimposes
Itself on the Grecian Urn: taut uterus
With tubes and attendant ovaries--who chooses
What comes into the head? Don’t fuss
About what the doctor saw: the calcified
Fibroid forming a perfect, skull-shaped dome,
Size sixteen weeks, forever, there inside
What is neither exactly womb nor tomb--
A citadel of sorts, but never a soul
Inhabited that cell, nor leaves it now--I’m full
Of something I can hardly bear to feel--
Because what will never happen now seems still
Happening, like a still-life or still-birth.
What if we’d started something, didn’t know it grew
Until its death was what there was to know--
Strobe-lit bloom imploding, kiln gone cool--
I’m trying not to say “Cold Pastoral,”
Or think of generations wasting. Earth
Rockets humming through its fertile fears--
Let panic feed the music of the spheres--
Oh blood, oh clots, oh cloying stickiness!
My long black dress and stockings, after class,
Were not worth saving--that’s what the flies knew
Hovering around, singing their madrigal:
Bloody is truth, truth bloody, that is all
We know on earth, and all we need to know--
Or did you sing Body, my little comic chorus,
Well-rounded, singing of that forthright dimension
Where truth is always leaking out, is porous--
As this polite professor might never happen to mention…
What is worth saving? Broken vessel, earth
Returns to earth. I tell my class each day
They live is one day closer to the day
They’ll die. And when they say that’s morbid,
I ask them why? And mean it. Every minute
Darkling: now here, now gone: our daily orbit,
Earth’s diurnal course. Isn’t that true?
Keats holds out his living hand, lets go his breath.
But, they say, we don’t have to dwell on it.
And I think (but how to break it to them?), we do.