June 23, 2020

Rachel Mallalieu

JUNE 2020

You took them hiking today
where the river smells green
the way the Schuylkill smelled when
you ran beside it in med school
before you married,
before you bore the boys and
adopted a girl—a brown skinned child
who suddenly wore your pale name,
back when the only dead body you’d touched was
the one you dissected in anatomy lab

Before you intubated the woman already
four hours dead when her husband
carried her into the waiting room
her eyes wouldn’t close but you
gave her the benefit of the doubt
and when you moved her
tongue aside you felt the chill of it
through two sets of gloves
Before a man’s tears collected in the
pools of his temples when you
told him he needed the ventilator and
all you could do to comfort him
was stroke his hair and tell him you would pray
Before your life became masks & goggles
& gowns & hair nets & fear
which settled in your throat

Before the country convulsed and some
of your friends didn’t understand why
though you knew it could be your daughter
under that knee someday
And you needed to write so you
tried to write about a Black
cemetery in 1858 which advertised
undulating hills and tree canopied paths
where lawyers and Civil War veterans
would rest together beneath the willows
But when the land became valuable,
they quietly razed the graveyard
and built a dollar store
(only history would tolerate such a cheap metaphor)
The bodies were discovered
beneath the parking lot last year and
you imagined the dust of
pulverized bones riding
the wind like seeds and landing in soil
made rich with blood

These words are slick and slippery things like
the minnows which darted between
your fingers in the lake
behind your childhood home
And while you construct the
story you think she needs,
those seeds have already taken root
in your daughter’s wild heart
Tonight, the river scents her hair as she
leaps into the pool, silhouetted
against the sun’s dying embers,
arms flung wide as if to say,
This too belongs to me

from Poets Respond
June 23, 2020

__________

Rachel Mallalieu: “Because I am an emergency physician, 2020 has already been one of the most challenging and difficult years of my career. I am also the adoptive mother of a Black child, and while I am encouraged that the United States is grappling with the brutal realities of systemic racism, there is still so much work to be done. But I have hope.”

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