Steph Sundermann-Zinger is a student in the Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA program at the University of Baltimore. Her poetry has appeared in Post.
I was a child once, although there’s blood
around the edges of it – knife-cut of thirteen,
severing. That fledgling year, fleeced
and feathered, open as a door. Hinges
and handles, thresholds and guardians.
The French word for secret
is secret, although I learned to say it
differently, flexing my fish-hooked mouth
around the last vowel. Hameçon – the barb,
the unspeakable tearing.
Three days dry, my father’s swollen wreck of a mouth
is viscous with want, and all I can find on my own tongue
is daddy. I listen for the life in him, the rasp
and shuddering cry, the galvanic beep of the monitor
measuring his heartbeats. Systolic, diastolic.
The nurses shape our lips around new language, blunt
milk. Hemoglobin, we say. Phenobarbital.
Mutinous, arms tethered to the bed, he’s lost
my name – his words are wilderness, imagined
for some other daughter. Delirium tremens. They give us
things to do with our hands, offering tiny sponges
to swab the stinking space behind his teeth. At night
they wrap us in white blankets, school us in the signs
of hemorrhage, hypotension. I count his breaths
until I learn what each one means. Until discharge. The word
sticks at the back of my throat, chalky and full of promise
as any pill. I just need something to wash it down.