Was it art or accident
That led the hospital’s head nuns
To tuck the failure-to-thrive babies
Into a corner of the seventh floor
Beside the eating disorder unit?
Three of us padded down to that corner once,
Teenagers in double-hung hospital gowns and
Standard-issue slippers squashed at the heel.
It was Christmas night, past visiting hours.
Midway down the corridor, a gilt-framed Madonna,
Ample in blue, swaddled the child who reached for her.
The hallway light spilled in behind us.
It lit the crib slats and the hard, taut sheets.
Fluorescent and cold – unholy –
It was white-turned-blue, like skim milk
Or veins on the inside of a wrist.
It didn’t wake the babies.
Later, we settled back into our beds,
Tucking the thin blankets over our shoulders,
Curling our knees to our small, dry breasts,
Keeping our gifts to ourselves.
We each ran the day’s numbers privately,
Counting calories rather than sheep.
Days before I left, the art therapist
Asked us to draw ourselves as animals.
In sure, waxy strokes of crayon,
I drew a solid, forward-facing lion,
All head, with a mane that reached the paper’s edge:
I was wiser now, nearly thriving.
Kelly, 12 years old and new to the unit,
Sat beside me, working on a blank page.
Or so it seemed. Leaning in,
I saw a pink bird in faint colored pencil
at the very center of the white white page,
One wing raised slightly, as if in apology.