Untitled [We held the baby]

we held the baby in the NICU swaddled
in her familiar hospital blanket pilled white
with blue and pink stripes, that blanket thin, familiar.
then, her crocheted hat, her small wrinkled forehead.
in the crook of our arms we held her with monitors,
dabbed her spit-up from the corner of her mouth
but she wasn’t ours (not our baby), not our wires
tangling her feet. here’s what happens
when someone changes their mind
about your parentage: there’s hope,
a slippery thing, and if hope has feathers,
they’re oil-slicked, un-buoyant. hope
becomes an enemy we wished we had
never seen. in the hospital, we didn’t know
where to go. we had no standing.
in the hospital, a woman in a wheelchair
circumnavigated the hallways with her one good foot.
she gave us directions. we looked at the map.
the babies (that weren’t ours) slept
in their clear incubators. the monitors
spat out beeps and numbers.
we held the baby
and she was light as a feather, light as a ruler,
light as something nearly forgotten from a purse
then remembered. Do you want to know
where she gave birth?
the social worker asked,
and I nodded. there are catastrophes
and there are catastrophes. i’ll hold the space
for you, they say in certain circles and i’m never sure
what that means. if i practice detachment,
can i kiss her soft head? can we finally take
some-body home? her mother gave birth in a bathroom.
her friends helped her, and this is a dispatch
from where? i file the longest telex. an amicus brief
from this space of love doors that stopped opening,
this space of god-gone-with-good-news, this place
with something abandoned inside of me still waiting
for us to drive home and home and home
past the fields and over the longest bridge
which is really just someone’s implacable arms
reaching over one body, and here we are
suspended between forms

Erika Meitner is the author of four books of poems, including Copia (BOA Editions, 2014), and Ideal Cities (Harper Perennial, 2010), which was a 2009 National Poetry Series winner. She is currently the 2014-15 US-UK Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University Belfast. She is also an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, where she teaches in the MFA program.