ER #12? #13? #16, Maybe?
Passed out on the couch, the man has been made / terrified by the woman shaking him and learns she’s been / made terrified too. He has been too tired to hear / the croaking floorboards, the heaves, the toilet flush, / her weary steps back to bed. But now, she needs him / to find her a way to the ER, the last sip of water / six hours ago and yet so much still coming up / green from deep inside her.
What time is it? he asks. 4:30, she replies. / Can you wait because they’re both asleep?
I knew you’d say that, she spits at him. / He wants her to reject this is happening / for as long as she can because it will happen / for the long time coming. What’s a few hours, / what’s a day of denial but a chance to take / a day away from this sickness?
But she will not agree. She will / instead yank the car keys from the rack, / which falls off its nails and onto the floor. She will muster / a Fine, I’ll take myself, and she will. / He is left then / with the boy and girl asleep and knowing nothing / of being terrified into guilt, into shame, into recognition / that, yes, this is their life once again.
No matter the noise of two kids arguing / over what they’ll eat for breakfast or which cartoon to watch, / the man will hear the garage door inch open, / the kitchen door creak wide. Of this, he is sure / because shame has a way of giving you the power / of hindsight, to see—no, to feel deep the caving in / of your center, your heart.
It’s not until after 11 / he hears one door, two, / the creaking of fifteen steps, and then one more door’s close. / The man weighs his options and stays holding the girl on the couch. / There are only so many I’m sorrys / she’ll be willing to believe. He’ll save / this one for another time.
Even with her retching, her headaches, their collective wishing / sometimes for this to have never happened, the man / must add injury to insult twice a week by injecting her / with progesterone. It is odd, at first, / that his muscles have memorized each step / in insuring this misery will continue. She can barely / stand for the two minutes he is to slowly push / this life-keeping into her. She can barely keep / the tears in. He wants to know if she can / forgive him if he suggests maybe skipping one or forgetting, / conveniently, which day sustains her / on this regimen. But she always remembers, never / gives in to what would be so much easier, the path / back to herself so much quicker than this needs to be.
Her body’s work to break the world / open again continues in the dark of their room. / Of her heart. Of her mind and soul, / if that word is okay to use, if it’s to be believed in. / Because too often now, the man doesn’t / want to carry the burden of lighting two of them. His faith is / ill equipped; it is young in the ways that don’t matter, / and old in the ways that do. He trusts it / as long as it works to keep her / from crying, from damning God for letting / this punishment happen to her. The man tries / to answer her curses with prayer, with light / at the end of this tunnel, with a simple, prodding, You’re strong. / You’re so much stronger than this thing, which is nothing / special but at least better than silence. He thinks / he hears her reply; it is only a catch / before she looses again into the kidney-shaped basin. / She wipes her mouth with a tissue and reports, / I have nothing in me anymore.
MICHAEL LEVAN has work in recent or forthcoming issues of Arts & Letters, Painted Bride Quarterly, Iron Horse Literary Review, Copper Nickel, Ruminate, and Hunger Mountain. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Saint Francis and writes reviews for American Microreviews and Interviews. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife, Molly, and children, Atticus, Dahlia, and Odette.