LS (2/11/1943 / Mingo Junction, Ohio)

New Breath

My wife agrees to babysit overnight
our new granddaughter—Zoe Miranda.
“They need some time alone, ” she says,
and I think aloud “And so do we.”
It’s not that I don’t want to help,
more that I doubt that I can,
as when she tells me I can feed her
and change her diapers if needed.

At sixty-five, retired, unable
to manage my own life sometimes,
I wear the thin clothes of doubt,
keep my pajamas on till noon.
Ann is so giving, so willing to
take on the struggles of others—
our daughters and son, her mother
in a nursing home—her clients—
listening, helping them breathe softly again.
And I am so comfort seeking

And so my son and his partner Dawn
dropp off the baby bundled in more clothes
and blankets than are on our bed.
Her little face stays calm as she’s handed round.
My wife tells them, “Now go on, have a good time, ”
and I “Do you have your cell phones? ”

Ann hands me baby Zoe who starts to fuss
answering my own tension, and I walk
the old bouncing step, cooing
“Now…Now…You’re alright…You’re alright…”
to the baby and myself.
Up and down the hall we go, till she stops.
It is only seven thirty.

She is our sixth grandchild
and I know we’ve survived with the others
but they can talk, and this babe
is so helpless and we are so vulnerable.
I look into her soft, smooth face
staring up at me now. I touch her cheek
with my thumb, hold her to the light
before the hallway mirror.

And so we sit with her through the evening
in the slow rhythm of her eating and sleeping,
our rocking and watching over.
A coward at eleven, I take to bed
leaving Ann to do the night shift
as she did with our own babies,
I catching the morning turn after they’ve bathed.

For a time I cannot sleep, hearing night wind,
knowing, feeling something growing inside.
I hear her distant cry, Ann’s soft footsteps,
and drift off to sleep.
At two I rise
find them nestled together on the couch,
fall back to sleep again myself.
Then at four
I wake in our old bed
to her soft breathing beside me.
Ann reaches over to stroke my cheek
and sighs herself to sleep.
Between our aging bodies
lies this soft, tiny child looking up at me now
breaking open my encrusted heart
with a trust that can only be love.

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