As the nurses pushed your bed into the OR,
you extended your arms toward us, & we promised
we’d take you to see the flamingos
in the hospital garden downstairs.
When you woke up, you refused to pee
on the diaper underneath you (you’d been potty-trained
for months), so we brought the bedpan & explained
you couldn’t walk yet, but soon. I learned
to listen to your monitor in my sleep.
The worried aren’t supposed to be hungry,
but I ordered food because it was reassuring
to know there was someone grilling chicken
in a restaurant in the city in the outside
which still existed. I decided to google Lady Gaga
& watch her videos. I contemplated dying
my hair red. The day they took you out of the ICU, I left
to take a shower at home. On my way
to the kitchen, my hair dripping, my arms full
of laundry, for a second I must have forgotten
my step, twisted & cracked my ankle.
I hollered until the pain settled. Your father
was with you. Your grandmother held
your little sister & called out to God. I called
a friend & leaned on him until we reached the car.
In the ER, all I could do was laugh. I who can barely handle
a blood test, or a mild fever, or even
ultrasound gel on my stomach,
I who can’t hold still enough
for an X-ray, laughed & told the doctor
to fix my ankle, quick, I have a daughter
waiting in a room upstairs, yes, here, in this hospital,
isn’t this funny? This is not about heroism.
This is not about selflessness, for you know too well
how many times I’ve refused to play cards with you,
how many times I’ve failed to listen, how I obsess
& disappear in search of words I don’t always
understand. Perhaps this is an apology. Perhaps I’m saying
life will sometimes infect your daughter’s lung
& fracture your ankle in the same week.
& most days, the car doesn’t break down,
& the children are healthy, & your husband
loves you, but you will be terrified nevertheless,
& sometimes empty. It’s ok if you forget
to put one foot in front of the other. & please
call me. I love you. I will tell you again
about that afternoon we both sat in wheelchairs,
I with my leg cast, you with your IV,
ate mashed potatoes, watched the flamingo
sculptures, which you probably knew couldn’t
be entirely delivered from the stone they’re made of,
but still pointed, Look, mama—
this one is bending toward the water,
this one is balancing on one leg,
this one is about to fly.
This poem was originally published by SoutheastReview.org
Here is a video of Zeina Hashem Beck as she performs a reading of “Flamingos"
Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her most recent collection, Louder than Hearts, won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. She’s also the author of 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook prize, There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 Laureate’s Choice selected by Carol Ann Duffy, and To Live in Autumn, winner of the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, Ploughshares, World Literature Today, The Southeast Review, The Adroit Journal, Triquarterly, The Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Zeina’s invented The Duet, is a bilingual poetic form where English and Arabic exist separately and in relationship to each other. Her poem “Maqam” won Poetry Magazine’s 2017 Frederick Bock Prize. www.zeinahashembeck.com
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