In the NICU,
they try to reassure me
with stories of babies
born at 23 weeks
who have survived
just like you and I,
no mark of this struggle
of wires and buttons,
dials and digital heartbeats.
Born at 27 weeks, Arturo
is more fetus than baby.
I gasp the first time I see them,
my twins, Arturo and Sara.
In the violet light of the incubator,
I struggle to make out the color
of their hair or their eyes.
The only way I can tell them apart
is that Sara’s hat has a jaunty bow.
Try to remain positive, they say.
They let me change their diapers.
Arturo’s eyes slit slightly open,
flash of black, amphibious.
I give him the tip of my finger
and his hand curls around it,
like a kitten’s paw. He is intubated,
the tape covering his lower face
like a mask. His chest is covered
by sensors. Even the preemie diaper
reaches to his armpits.
All that I can see,
because they cannot cover it
in order to have a place from which
to draw blood, is his left foot,
a bulbous big toe standing straight
up in the air, just like mine.
Just like mine. This is my son.
Even when the crash cart comes in,
even when I can no longer tell
which doctor can save him,
I believe that things will turn around.
When the beep of his heartbeat
goes silent, I clutch my husband and
watch my son turn purple, beginning
with his toe. This is my son,
I say to myself, when I
can finally hold him, free
from tubes and tape. I think
of the multiverse theory,
wondering what version of me
can hold him alive and breathing.
what version of me
can take him home,
can watch him grow.
Sara’s hair is golden,
her eyes a streaming blue river.
She squeals with laughter
as my mother makes her
airplane sounds with her spoon.
I think of that version of me
where there are two toddlers,
skin so white you can see
their map of veins. I trace
Sara’s blue highways to her
big toe, bulbous, alert, ready
to spring into action.
The day of my son’s burial
is bright and hot. Karina
takes Lucy in her arms.
Eddy has taken the day off
to be with us.
The minute it’s over
I drive from the cemetery
straight back to the NICU.
They have moved Sara
to a different room
in a less critical
part of the hospital.
Nurses hug me and cry.
They make promises
about Sara. All I want
is to be left alone with her.
to be able to hold her
in my arms now that
it is possible, and sing
to her. I sing softly
the songs I know—
Mötley Crüe’s “Home
Sweet Home.” I hum
“Boadicea” by Enya and
think of the ancient British
queen, wishing her strength
They call it kangaroo time—
whenever you carry your baby,
the mess of tubes dangling
from her arms, chest, legs,
spread out like a frog skin to skin.
The supposition is that my
body’s warmth has some
magical properties that will
strengthen Sara. I rock and
rock her on the bulky armchair,
my shirt unbuttoned, my bra
no doubt rough against her skin.
The day Arturo died the incubator
was open when I came in
and he laid splayed out on the bed
like a starfish.
Some kind of infection was
ravaging his body.
His belly was as big as a baseball.
The last time I had kangarooed
him I had been uncomfortable
and wanted to put him back
in the incubator after just half
an hour. We took the only picture
we’d ever take together that day.
I worried about the two inches
of roots that showed at the part
in my hair. I did not sing to him.
After Boadicea lost the lands
she had regained from the Romans,
she died, likely poisoning herself.
At night when I go home
I start sleeping with my
earbuds on. The same songs
over and over and over.
I’m on my way, just set me free,home sweet home.Version 0.44
According to the doctor, you were nothing but
a chemical mass of cells. Not even really
an embryo. Failure. Rejection. Did you have a soul?
Was that soul inside me the night
we went looking at the graffiti murals in Midtown?
Were there two of us walking in the dark,
gazing up at the dazzling walls, marveling
at the depth and breadth and height
monstrous men and women,
geometric figures, homages to Wilma Flintstone,
LeBron James, and Bob Marley?
A cement-block geography of pop, Miami’s pink guts
rendered in swathes of primary colors and tagged
indecipherably by artists smart enough
to know that what matters is the art.
What part of you is visible in the picture
we took in front of the 10-foot insect woman,
tendrils of her hair glistening in silver spray paint
under the streetlights. I search my face,
my picture-smile, always so contrived.
Is there some trace on my lips of you,
a seed already curling into a tadpole?
The baby website says you had a dividing
heart, chambers getting ready to beat and pump blood.
I had signed up for the November birth club,
and they still send me their hapless bulletins,
trying to tell me what’s going on in my uterus this week.
How much of you is left in me now
that I’ve bled out your nonlife, nonsoul, chemical self?
When I go back to Midtown the insect woman mural
is gone, some robot-future in blacks and reds
in her place, some dystopian vision.
They do that sometimes, paint over the murals.
No trace left of the art underneath, that other painter
who spent God knows how very long dreaming, planning,
measuring, coloring the vast canvas of the city
and then standing back—maybe only for
a moment—in that mute blush of satisfaction
invisible in the deep, black, empty night.