the healing muse

Volume 13, 2013

Limbo

Elizabeth Crowell

I
In communal auscultation,
we listen to the umbilical roar
as the doctor’s needle navigates
the womb like the beady light
of a lifeboat in the night sea.
Even after we understand,
there is this pause,
as we pretend to decide
it could or could not be otherwise.

II
We don’t believe an unbaptized child
will linger neither here nor there,
but when a nurse asks in the delivery room
we agree to the cross
drawn on our son’s flushed head
with a tight-gloved hand,
wanting to give him
everything he would ever have.
If she had offered him a letter jacket,
his brief name stitched in blue script,
we would have said yes in the same way.

III
The Vatican decree
in stiff, black frocks and tonic voices
pronounced limbo at best a theory
and not a truth.
This distinction is lost on us
in the brown days that flock
like pigeons snapping upward
from a waterless fountain, a stone square,
to settle back close to where they left,
but not exactly there.

IV
Grief, the exact word,
swollen, bodied, is tagged
on the silver, utility box
by the corner light we pass,
moving back into traffic and weeks.
Incredulous, we read it like a blessing,
even as it fades, drawn over,
invisible again, like the symbol
sketched on the shiny flesh
which we would love
and never know, sunk,
as it is, even for us,
in pentimento.

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