In the prelight
A heavy sound from upstairs
I turn from the front door
My three-year-old son stands
in the soft penumbra of dimmed hallway light
Clutching his favorite blanket
picture book and well-rubbed panther
to his chest.
His toes curl on the wooden floor.
I am dressed and beepered —
No snuggling in the warm water bed this morning
floating back to sleep till sunlight wakens.
Instead, we hug.
his thin neck.
I feel his small breaths.
His bedroom door stands closed,
heavy in shadows.
At the operating suite,
The residents still at lecture
The patient not yet here,
I enjoy the rote motions —
follow the green snake tubing to the ceiling
barbotage dissolving drugs into syringes
snap open the laryngoscope.
Around me all is bright pristine ordered
Sterile instruments attend in precise, metallic rows.
I try to recall his just awakened warmth
in that brief moment
The patient arrives
Naked under hospital issue
Ready to sleep.
"This poem has a life of its own. I had trundled it off to be published one day, and the next thing I knew, it started wandering around, popping up in anthologies and medical humanities courses. So if you see it wandering around, looking for a spot to nestle, please take it in and maybe offer it a cup of cocoa.
This poem is about being a working mother, about the dualities of the world of warm wood and the world of sterilized, cold steel, but also, I hope, about the harmonies between the two worlds.
In our house, this poem is called ‘the naked poem.’ Once, before I headed out to a poetry reading, I remember my daughter, with a note of anticipation and hope in her voice, asking, "Mom, are you going to read the naked poem?" She loves the naked poem. My son - her brother - hates it. But, as a friend says, my son shouldn’t be concerned — the one who is really naked — exposed and vulnerable in this poem, is me."
*First published in Annals of Internal Medicine [v. 117, p. 167, 1992] . Reproduced with permission of The American College of Physicians and Audrey Shafer. Copyright The American College of Physicians. All rights reserved.