Be aware of the midnight knock, the one that sends you breathless out under moth veiled streetlights, no time to grab a toothbrush or checkbook or underwear
as you hear the sweet Muzak whisper stay calm, get in your car, drive safely to the airport.
Only you don’t, blitzing through tollways where you hurl change, see her face,
your seven month old, two thousand miles away, her name like a prayer,
Be aware of anxiety at 2 AM, the airport lobby no place to crack up while waiting for a flight.
After all, a mad woman who smells of ashes and bones sits close, whispers curses at you,
at the sleeping priest, then warns of dangerous skies that promise engine
when all you long for is sleep, the clean smell of your daughter, her tiny ears soft as orchids.
Be aware of terminal art, a mad sculpture encased in glass that taunts you with its motion
of chains and steel and chimes, of bells ringing, balls dropping, sprockets churning within jagged wheels, each perfectly timed function a reminder that somewhere a machine dial hovers near red, an IV drips fluid into her thin veins, a perilous
needle floats inches
above her spine.
Be aware of the dry whisper at 23,000 feet, the voice of cemeteries and funerals, the promise
that your daughter is dying while you sweat it out somewhere over Missouri, the dark
fields of clover and beans stitched together like a shroud.
You hang on, watch as Denver looms up to seize the plane, then rush to the hospital ICU
where doctors talk of brain damage, of hearing loss, of h-flu.
Be aware of losing all hope when you enter the pale room, her eyes closed, the oxygen tube taped to her small lip. You lean close, your mouth inches from her ear as you whisper
her rocking chair song- rock-rock-rocking in Daddy’s arms over and over, her pulse
a jagged slash on the screen. All night you will sing to her, your voice cracking, brittle,
and come morning, her clear eyes, blue pools of trust, will tell you she lives.
Timothy Hillmer lives in Louisville and is the author of The Hookman (Scribner) and Ravenhill (University of New Mexico Press).