Thursday 15 August 2019

Ermelinda Makkimane, Poetry 2019 Shortlist

Death of A Child

She ran her fingers 
through her child’s hair.
A curl descended 
on the child’s forehead
and the mother blew at it.

The curl flew off and then 
bounced back playfully.
The mother stared at the curl,
The only sign of liveliness now
in that lifeless body.

Body, she shuddered at the word. 
When did my child become a body, 
she wondered?
The nurse came and tried to rouse her 
but she shrugged her off.
She needed some more time
with her baby.

The attached wires and tubes
were finally taken off and
she bent over and took
the baby into her arms
and rocked her gently.

She crooned 
an old lullaby
in a broken voice. 
A nurse stifled a sob 
and fled from the room.
But the mother hummed on, 
heedless to the activity 
around her:

The machines being put away,
the wires being set in their place,
the tubes being cleaned, 
all being made ready
for the next occupant.

The Catholic nurse on duty 
suddenly turned from the scene
and blinked back tears
as she saw the similarity
with the Pieta.*

The mother whispered
sweet things
into the child’s ears 
as if she were 
promising a treat. 

She realised the pain 
of not knowing, 
but believing
what the eyes 
could not now behold.

Her child was at peace somewhere 
beyond her grasp, alive and well.
She greedily took in 
the features of the still child 
knowing she must leave soon.

Her heart, however, 
ached and twisted
and seemed not to understand
the urgency of the 
nurses in the room.

So she ignored all the sounds around her
and wrapped her arms tighter still
willing life into the child, 
Willing God to put things right,
To give life to the dead.

Nothing happened.
The mother uttered a long sigh,
Grief flooded her senses.
The nurses came rushing to her
As her body was wracked with sobs,

Very gently, delicately, 
they took away the baby
Then led the mother
to the place where
The rest of the family waited.

They mourned together 
in a huddle
Drawing life from each other, 
The pain of their loss 
was sharp and hurting

But the mother gathered herself
quicker than the others
Her moments with the child 
had given her a grace, 
A sense of peace. 

It now uplifted her very soul
She looked radiant almost, 
as she led the family to the chapel. 
“Come let’s thank the Lord 
for the gift of our girl,” she said.

*The Pieta is a marble sculpture by Michelangelo depicting a surprisingly youthful Mary with the lifeless body of Jesus in her arms

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