Reading the story of a man
who lost his sons at twenty weeks
twin boys, fought for through
two long years of drugs and doctors.
They say the words to each other
he and his wife
‘dead babies’
they can sometimes say the words
but what they cannot say
are the names of their sons
out loud.

He and his wife, graduate students,
are drowning. She misses classes,
files for extensions, lifts her head up briefly
only to be dragged under again.
He, the man, appears to cope
because she needs him to
it’s what people expect — but don’t be fooled
he’s drowning too.

Telling the story to Kevin
too late at night.
I should be asleep but instead
compulsively recount the details.
It was Christmas. Joshua died first.
They had to decide at twenty weeks
whether to try to fight for Jacob
risking her life in the process.
They decided to try. They lost him
anyway. The anesthesia didn’t take
on the left half of her body. She doesn’t
remember much of the screaming hours.
He remembers too much.

Kevin says he doesn’t know how you
— would we? — come back from that.
The death of a child. We try to pinpoint
the moment (for us) at which it would become
unbearable. Maybe at three weeks,
we say, or four. In that haze of bitter exhaustion
wondering why we decided to have a child
in the first place. At four weeks, we could have
come back. Maybe. Six weeks after we met her
would be too late. By then,
we knew her smile.

Maybe we’re fooling ourselves, claiming
that even at one week post-partum
we would recover. Having seen
her pale blue first hour eyes darkening,
smelled the vanilla of her skin,
felt the tiny hand clutching instinctively
desperately, at our fingers — maybe
we were already lost. Or earlier,
with butterfly kicks, the skeletal face
on the ultrasound, the pounding of her heart.

This is a terrible subject. Dead babies.
Why are we still talking about it,
in the middle of the night? We have to sleep.
Too soon, Kavi will wake me
and we will start another day. We will bolt
the bookcases to the wall today, really we will.
We will never ever ever leave her alone
again. We have to sleep, but first
I make Kevin climb out of bed,
go down the hall, check once again. Tell me yes,
it is safe to go to sleep.

Yes, she is still breathing.