Burning in our twin scarlet fevers,
we were laid out, feet to feet,
on the worn, gold sofa, my brother and me.
A doctor stood above us, the skin
of his forehead pleated into something
I now interpret as compassion, or pity.
Our young mother stood in her winter coat
smoking the butt of a cigarette in the cold
dank air of our home. Behind her, unheated
rooms flared with unmade beds and stale twists
of soiled laundry. If perhaps she sought a brief
oblivion in nicotine, I will not blame her now.
For the furnace was shot, and no odors of dinner
cooking wafted from the kitchen, and our father
was not there. We saw him in our mind’s eye
several miles away, leaning on the bar, seeking
his own relief in a cheap bottle of bitter beer.
To make us well, the doctor plunged his needles
in our naked rumps, and pulled the blankets tight
beneath our chins. And thenfor reasons I cannot
conceive, and so must call it graceremoved from
his car’s dark trunk, thick platters of old music encased
in paper sleeves. He carried them inside where we
lay burning. On our ancient player: the Nutcracker Suite,
some strange and delicate food afloat in the air I swallowed
hungrily with my ears.
And when I turned
from the harsh click of the needle’s arm resettling
itself in its metal saddle, the world was stained glass,
my body a delicate canvas of skin over bone.
Something had once been painted there beautifully
and with care. And if it had worn away over the years,
or grown encased in a kind of shell? I suddenly saw
I could get back my beauty. I could peck my way out
like any young god, or a duckling, the black swan
hatching in a nest of white, the dark hum
of music in a small, tight place that resists
giving way till the final moment. Then it shudders
apart in an orgy of exit, and the shellthe shell cracks open.