Gwendolyn

At 2:30 a.m. and two weeks early, her water breaks. She calls her mother. I pack: notebook, pen, phone chargers, On Becoming a Novelist, my laptop, my clothes, her clothes, the duffel bag, grogginess, excitement, hope, fear.

At 3:26 a.m., I text my family. “Her water for sure broke this time. Now at the hospital.” On the delivery room couch, I take the January stillness into me. Because of her principal’s promise of being fired, she sits in the bed, tethered by machines and data, and tries to lesson plan. I read, underline, and write page numbers on an ink-smudged sticky note under the front cover. We wait in peace only broken by the occasional nurse’s check.

At 9:15 a.m., her parents and sister arrive from over four hours away. We worried they wouldn’t make it in time. We didn’t know they had ten hours to spare.

At 11:24 a.m., contractions cause her to clamp hands on the bars of the bed. I sit on the couch devouring donuts necessitated by low blood sugar. Unsupportiveness consumes me.

At 12:30 p.m., she’s stopped dilating. Eight is her plateau but ten is the magic number. I begin to get impatient. Anxiety cascades, overloads, and overflows my brain. What if my daughter’s heart stops beating on the monitor? What if they both die and leave me?

At 2:00 p.m., she’s pushing, breathing, pushing. I need to check the mail. Have my comics been delivered? “You’ve got to remember to breath.” I could have taught all my classes by now. “Make sure to keep your chin down.” No more pushing. Instead, walking, standing, leaning. Why can’t they get her out? What if she is in there too long—her head squished and her brain damaged?

At 4:10 p.m., there’s no more natural birthing, but instead, an epidural after the point they said it was unsafe. I watch without watching through the reflection in the mirror above the sink.

At 5:30 p.m., the bro anesthesiologist throws the cap for another needle across the room at the trash bin. He misses just like his efforts to relieve her pain. She’s delirious and shouldn’t feel her legs by now. She can still feel everything.

At 5:40 p.m., the doctor and nurses talk about what to do. They decide a caesarean section is the only choice if after another hour and a half nothing changes. She’s too tired to care or worry, but neither of us wanted that option and thoughts of her death return.

At 6:15 p.m., she’s still not ready. They give her more drugs, but they’ve stopped telling us what they’re pumping into her. I write this and everything else in my notebook. At first, these were notes for a poem, but now, it is record just in case.

At 6:30 p.m., her delirium breaks. “I need to push!” she yells.

At 7:36 p.m., I cry more than anyone else even Gwendolyn, my healthy daughter.

 

Seth Kristalyn

 

Seth Kristalyn holds an MA in English from Kansas State University. His work has never been published. He lives in southwestern Kansas where he works as an English instructor.

The Usual Distractions

The cathedral is coming down.

Oaks, hickories splinter into leafy glass.

Shards spiral. Cold drifts down.

The wind dumps truckloads.

The kaleidoscope is shattering blue.

Frost laces the grass.

 

He calls a friend to launch a boat

in the river: “It will sink of dry rot

before it gets wet again.”

Soviet citizens chided their officials,

“They will walk out of the water dry.”

 

There is no escaping warring elements,

no matter the day’s brilliance.

“How about a walk somewhere

we haven’t been, crossing

the bridge, walking the ridge

to where it cuts down to the creek?”

His friend is repairing a tire.

He hasn’t finished roofing his studio.

 

“Who knows he might be dead tomorrow,”

Yesterday in Bali, a crowded night club exploded.

Hidden in a car trunk on a street in Washington DC,

a sniper kills drivers stopped at gas stations.

Work on the roof, go for a walk,

who knows when we’ll be done

praying through these leaves.

Two days later, in the hospital bed

He slurs hello, a stroke of bad luck.

 

Walter Bargen

Walter Bargen has published 23 books of poetry. Recent books include: Days Like This Are Necessary: New & Selected Poems (BkMk Press, 2009), Trouble Behind Glass Doors (BkMk Press, 2013), Perishable Kingdoms (Grito del Lobo Press, 2017), Too Quick for the Living (Moon City Press, 2017), My Other Mother’s Red Mercedes (Lamar University Press, 2018), and Until Next Time (Singing Bone Press, 2019). His awards include: a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Chester H. Jones Foundation Award, and the William Rockhill Nelson Award. He was appointed the first poet laureate of Missouri (2008-2009). www.walterbargen.com

At Quarter Past a Lifetime

There were no witnesses to his loss,

it was a private affair.

 

He stood with sober eyes and watched

the sun fade behind his dream.

 

Darkness folded over itself,

covering far reaches of space.

 

A vast expanse of stillness

soon enveloped all.

 

Closing the door behind him,

walking beyond the breech.

 

At quarter past a lifetime,

he knew the end had come.

 

 

Ann Christine Tabaka

 

Ann Christine Tabaka was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize in Poetry, has been internationally published, and won poetry awards from numerous publications. She is the author of 9 poetry books. Christine lives in Delaware, USA. She loves gardening and cooking. Chris lives with her husband and two cats. Her most recent credits are: Burningword Literary Journal; The Write Connection; Ethos Literary Journal, North of Oxford, Pomona Valley Review, Page & Spine, West Texas Literary Review, The Hungry Chimera, Sheila-NaGig, Pangolin Review, Foliate Oak Review, Better Than Starbucks!, The Write Launch, The Stray Branch, The McKinley Review, Fourth & Sycamore.