Thursday, October 2, 2014

To the Children Eating Chicken McNuggets in a South Carolina Emergency Room [poem]

To the Children Eating Chicken McNuggets in a South Carolina Emergency Room

I remember the kind of midnight
you’re having now –
your arm broke, or your mother’s
arm broke or your father
is broken.  It’s all the same. 

Something’s snapped,
and here you are
in your too-thin pajamas,
with your hungry belly
and a hurt you want to curl around.

It’ll seem odd when the strangers
in the blue rooms here and beyond
want you to open up, let them see.

It will feel wrong to your
simple and fine understanding
of how to treat a wound,
antithetical to everything
maybe your teacher or television
told you about adults you don’t know.

Antithetical is a word you don’t know
yet, but let me tell you something new
that might help you digest this
better down the line – antithetical
is the word adults use for un-life times like this,

for when things happen that aren’t supposed to,
for hurt, for confusion, for stunned children. 

-----

As a person dealing with multiple chronic illnesses, I have been to a number of emergency rooms many times.

If you're lucky, you don't know why anyone else is there. I say "lucky" because one of the times I did know why someone was there it was because they were very clearly there to be treated for vomiting.
Also, once I knew that another person was there for drunken-disorderly-arrest-resisting.
It's no place for a child.

Which makes it particularly sad when a child is there.

During one of my last visits, there were several children there - wrapped up in blankets, feverish, playing with some small electronic, wandering from guardian to guardian, eating Chicken McNuggets.

One little boy sat quietly, fiddling with a guardian's long, thin dreadlock like a worry stone, or a rosary. I didn't know if he was there to be treated, or if a relative were sick. I just watched him sit close to the man with the dreadlocks, his fingers smoothing and working one lock. The boy was all concern and seriousness.

I connected with his quiet worry because, as a child of domestic violence, I experienced quite a few late night emergencies, upheavels from my bed that left me sitting in my pajamas in the most unlikely of places - a car parked outside a drugstore, or a relative's house, waiting for their lamp light to turn on and for them to let us in.

So, even though I didn't know this child's story in the ER, I related to once being small, and wearing pajamas in unlikely places, under less than ideal circumstances - circumstances that are upsetting.
I tried to write a poem about that - about children, and how hurt - any and all kind of hurt - is hard for them.

Initially, I wanted to write a more specific poem, about the specific child I saw, particularly to get down the image of him touching and clinging to this guardian's hair, but I decided that I didn't have enough information not to write a poem that wasn't a whole lot of presumption, and I find that those are most often the poems that go wrong on me - when I try to write authoritatively on something I don't really know.

Better, for me, to stick to "write what you know" or else dip into complete, unabashed fantasy.

The observation that sparked this poem didn't lend itself to flights of fancy, so instead I wrote what I knew, what the observation brought up from and for me.

Still, I hope the poem managed to be about more-than-me.

I wrote this poem on October 2, 2014 as part of Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project.

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