by David J. Bauman
a new constellation
waiting for us to map it
—Richard Blanco, “One Today”
A uniformed officer guards the door
in this low-lit corner of the hospital.
Through the shatterproof window,
I see you sitting up in bed, calm now.
In her text, your mother said that you
did not want to see me. So, I seek her
out instead. She is speaking with
a doctor in a green smock who nods
for me to go in. A year from now,
in a hospital like this, I will storm out,
furious at a therapist who insists
you are well enough to go. I will break,
imagining your return, over and over.
You will stare me down through
the window of another door, fists
at your sides. But today, I have brought
the books you asked for, including one
by the poet we met, the saddle-stitched
copy which we forgot to have him sign.
Nine stanzas written for the country. We
read them together in this colorless room.
No sun, no moon, no window but the door.
“It’s a good poem,” you say. I nod.
There is no map for this place.
He might have been speaking to the swan,
one of the cygnets in the park, gray
last year, now turned white but not yet
ready to mate. She’d been pulled
by the current over the low-head dam
and into the boil below. He didn’t exhale
until she broke the surface again downstream.
Swans are sturdy beasts: already she was
preening, bobbing along toward calmer water.
Last year he’d watched her family on the bank
and couldn’t tell at first who was grooming whom,
all those necks and beaks and wings.
But each bird combed its own coat. Alone,
she was doing this now, arcing her long neck
back to realign each feather.
He said it again later, as he stowed
his bag of groceries in the car. Coffee, eggs,
vegetables for the omelet he would make
for dinner. No one to hear—the words fell out,
unbidden and just above a whisper. Who
was he talking to? At home that night, natural
as a swan’s impulse to smooth her own
feathers, he said it once more: “I love you.”
No one in the house except this person
in the mirror, toothbrush paused midair, cool
water tumbling from the faucet, the folds
of his bathrobe slowly opening, like wings.
Nearby There Is a Field
of flowers, a wild congregation of color,
boarding Valley Road and the graveyard.
But in this place where you stay,
the walls are barren. Fluorescent halls
empty into rooms that smell of sweat
and solvent. Something unnamable
lingers in heavy curtains, permeates
linoleum. Nothing here like a flower,
nothing green or growing. In that field
between farmland and ridge, the wind
bends each bloom and breaks against
the headstones. That isn’t right; it doesn’t
break, it wraps around the names it
cannot think to say. It whistles, mindless.
It has no plan. As I stand in the hall
outside your room, there is a girl sprawled
on the floor and crying. There is wildness here
that empty walls deny. Storms blow through us.
If I had a choice, I’d be wind through the valley,
bending what I could, bowing where I had to.
But here in the hall, with the girl in tears,
I am stone and blank. Not columbine
or lavender. Not chamomile or yarrow,
bitterweed or aster. Nothing like a flower.
David J. Bauman is the author of two poetry chapbooks, most recently, Angels & Adultery, selected by Nickole Brown for the Robin Becker Series (Seven Kitchens Press, 2018). He has recent poems published in New Ohio Review, the Citron Review, Third Wednesday, and Lovejets, Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares and Rebels, 2019). His poetry reviews have appeared in Windhover, Whale Road Review, and sometimes in audio form on his website at www.davidjbauman.com.