Volume 20, Number 3


With a mountaineer’s grip
around her mother’s wrist, the girl carves
shallow lunules with her nails.

The mother’s sinews strain
against the girl’s knuckles,
blanched and swollen, like dough.

My fingers, asphalt-sticky
with latex, blood and amnion,
cramp around the vacuum extractor.

Two sweaty hours. Too many fingers
furrowed from pushing and pulling.
“I can’t do it!” she sobs, “I can’t.”

A slack, resigned fist wipes her
freckled, tenth-grade cheeks.
“Just get it out. Out,” she pleads.

The mother glowers and jabs a finger
through the air, “She needs a Caesarean.
Don’t you people know anything?”

I deliver my wrinkled hands
from their gloves and tell her
we’ll do a c-section. She paces,

snorting, as a nurse’s fingers
thread a needle through a tortuous
vein on the girl’s bird-skittish hand.

All the while, the silent thumb
of a slack-jawed, pimpled boy
pushes the buttons on the TV remote.

—James Wilk