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Children's Ward

Half frozen, manmade, it’s not much of a lake.
We called it Hospital Pond, strolling home
from elementary school, inciting the geese
to chase us--seeking reasons to scream.
The walkway around the fake lake teems
with graffiti I’ll be able to read in a couple
of weeks, they say. Squinting through gauze,
as I’m admonished not to do, things look
runny and warped, like peering through
egg white, but the world’s still there,
ready to ask me to dance. Grumpy
junior mummies, or giant cocooned pupas
surround me on rinky-dink cots.
Disinfectant’s our incense, its nose-stabbing
stink meant to erase the treasonous reek
of bodies turned wrong side out. This pillow’s
flat as a saltine. At dusk three day-nurses
stop by to wish me goodnight, lifting their
unpinned hair from coat collars. Their lips
are crimson. Mother loved a lipstick called
persimmon. The plump, freckled nurse
who fusses over me most swoops in, kisses
my forehead, then coos to the others, “Cool
as a cucumber,” as I plunge into the icy
bath of their laughter.

This poem originally ran in the November 3, 2011, issue of the magazine.