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Waiting Area Atrium

The grapes we fed the baby kept her occupied and smiling, and let us talk the way adults do under pressure, with food and forced good humor. But when we discovered the grapes had seeds, our palms flew instantly to her chin, our pleading voices kicked in: Spit it out. Spit it out. Did you swallow? Swallow? Swallow? She had. Then swallowed again, mutely, to prove her point. The silhouettes of swallows kept real birds from crashing into the windows of the atrium, where I’d been directed after leaving my lover in pre-op. Who knew where we’d be after? I was to wait in the Waiting Area Atrium, while they took off her breasts. The windows were too tall to see through, but surrounded us on all sides. East and west allowed light in above mountain ranges laser-sketched into the glass; I thought of them as the Appalachians and the Rockies. North and south were dark, like the poles. I’d come from some direction and could now wait here, as if I had traveled a great distance, over both sets of frosted mountains, the pack mule I’d long suspected I was, picking a path through the valley. One hears the phrase, Can’t put one foot in front of the other, but never expects to feel it. Can’t or won’t, my parents would ask, but what was the answer? Your baby girl ate the grapes. She swallowed the seeds; she didn’t choke. A year from now her brothers will be born behind the windows of the North Pole. The scars on my lover’s chest, two seams in a quarry. But we don’t know any of that yet. We tear the grapes to pulp before we eat them, though they’d tasted good as they were: small, hard, cool, the seeds sliding down our throats or cracking under our teeth. What had we been so afraid of, hands covered with juice, seeds piled on our plate? The world was already rising around us; all we had to do was wait.



And then, on the thinnest day, I wrapped our shadows
Around me for warmth, the tail-end of orioles like embers
And the ashes they become, nectar left bubbling in a bottle
A reminder of all I never saw coming coming true: field stubble
Alive with rabbits, and the dark above our bed made one breath
And two wings darker by the bat that entered under the window sash:

                        What dreams did it hear to find us,
                        To what hunt was it drawn, to what murmurs like prey?

                                                Old love, I forget faster and faster—
                                                You always parted my legs with your hand—
And still I understand
Almost nothing.  


Kathy Fagan is the author of four books of poems, most recently Lip (2009). Appearing here is work from a fifth collection, Sycamore. Other poems from the manuscript are in FIELD, The Laurel Review, Ninth Letter, and The Awl. Fagan teaches at Ohio State, where she co-edits the OSU Press/The Journal Award Series in Poetry. Find her on the web at http://www.kathyfagan.net.