Audio: Read by the author.
My son’s terrible fevers are softening me
to God. To the idea. When he sizzles
to the touch, speaks a strange new language
of not-consonants and not-vowels, I need
one golden iteration I can live with.
When even syntax is burnt black, smelling
of creosote. By nightlight I mitten his hands
and sock his feet with cold washcloths.
I wipe down his cheeks and forehead, his chest
and the back of his neck. He is nearly
too big, but I lift him, hold him guitar-slung
across my body, and sway. Now and then
he whimpers, brain blazing. This is terror
and this must be how it happens—how need
alchemizes into belief. I try to visualize being
held myself, in a cupped hand. In the shining
idea of a hand. I try to feel myself held,
holding. My arms tremble with his weight.
Maggie Smith’s most recent books are Good Bones (Tupelo) and the forthcoming Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change (One Signal). Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the New York Times, Tin House, Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Poetry.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.