"Upon Hearing a 2-Year-Old's First Attempts at an Elvis Impression, I Recall the Difficulties of Her Birth"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Nov. 4 2008 7:10 AM

"Upon Hearing a 2-Year-Old's First Attempts at an Elvis Impression, I Recall the Difficulties of Her Birth"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear John Hodgen read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

When the syndicate doctors took us aside to say earnestly, insistently,
in the way that syndicate doctors are instructed to say, in that sibilant whisper
that comes unbidden, that my wife and I should not offer hope, not so much,
should be aware that the baby, if delivered, might not survive,
that our daughter, stitched up, cerclaged, should not drink from that cup,
should not get to believing, should know instead that this child might be
...damaged at best,
we held on, earnest in our own way, in the way we had come to believe.

And when my daughter went down on the intensive care floor, the way a tree bends
in the face of a storm, the way a woman bends to wash a man's feet with her hair,
when she writhed with medication, shaken to her core, convinced in her way
that love could be that cruel, that she could be the engine of her daughter's demise,
her tremors generating the contractions that would kill her, we held on,
convinced that love would tender us, would hold us tenderly, too. 

And when the nurses came to us, one by one, over time, in the way
they have instructed themselves to do, in their secret, shared alliance, 
each driven to believe that the heart can hold on, each of them saying,
Fatima-like, in their own sense of what it takes to be divine,
each of them nodding like a chorus, like backup singers, saying again and again
that the baby would be fine, the baby would be fine, we held on.

And this girl-child, this hey baby, fully present in the blue suede world,
runs now, all shook up, in some hound-dog dervish, some jailhouse-rocking circle of joy,
from the phone, around the kitchen again, and back to the phone,
saying, Hey Baby, Hey Baby, Thankyouverymuch, Thankyouverymuch.

John Hodgen's Grace won the 2005 AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry.