Laura Donnelly’s first book, Watershed, won the 2013 Cider Press Review Editors’ Prize. Her poetry has appeared recently in Passages North, Indiana Review, Grist, and as the Missouri Review poem of the week. Originally from Michigan, she lives in Upstate New York and teaches at SUNY Oswego.
– for my motherToday we’re out birding, you
in your red coat, the binoculars
we borrowed swinging from our necks.
Yellow warbler, catbird mewling.
Mostly, I’m learning to walk more slowly,
ignore my phone’s itch,
not rush you, remembering
how we sat in the hospital
playing cribbage while a line dripped
into your arm, the tangle of wires
that meant I shuffled for you.
We agreed whoever was ahead
when the doctor came in would win
and I was relieved it was you.
You were not frightened of the knife
but the drug that would lay you out
cold on the table –
to disappear like that for an hour,
two, while they dug a tumor
the size of a robin’s egg
from your right breast. To not know
where the mind will hide out,
how they’ll call it back down –
Down the hall, a woman
had both breasts removed.
I watched her husband
in the waiting room, his eyes
small behind tiny glasses.
They gave me a buzzer
with flying saucer lights
that would flash when the surgery
was over. I carried it
through labyrinth halls searching coffee,
some off-hours café, wondered
if buying a chocolate cookie
was wrong under the circumstances.
It took twice as long as expected.
Twice I came to the counter
to ask if my buzzer was broken.
When they wheeled you back swaddled
in blankets, one covering your head
like a woozy nun, it was my turn
to fear. Couldn’t find you
anywhere in there – darting
eyes, hands like birds, your talk
of tigers filling the room (one
just there, you pointed,
at your side). All I could do
was say it had gone well, you
did great, try not to look away.