Sunday, January 1, 2006

Love Song with Cruise Control

One by one, their heads nod, then drop
into a chorus of muffled snores.
Only I remain awake, holding the wheel.
I pilot these tons of steel at lethal speed,
twisting past drop-offs, abutments, massive trucks.
Husband, child, baby, how thoughtlessly
each of you drops your life
into these tired and slightly achy hands.
It would only take a flick of the wrist,
a moment's inattention. And yet you sleep.
And still I drive. The thought of your fragile,
precious bodies fills every mile,
a surfeit of joy and terror.

Cheryl Gatling

published in Gingko Tree Review

Infant Pneumonia

She wouldn’t suck. She wouldn’t cuddle.
Her eyes rolled toward me, then away again.
I hugged her to my chest and ran
from the doctor’s office to the X-ray lab.
There they jammed her into a plastic tube
with her arms above her head,
still in her white T-shirt, crying.
“That’s good,” the technician said.
“It expands the lungs.”
When they handed her back,
I wouldn’t lay her down again.
I slept that night in a chair,
holding her up so the mucus would drain.
In sudden, sharp focus, I cherished it all:
the sweaty spikes of her damp hair,
the rattling vibrations of every breath.
I hold no moments more precious than these,
the nearly unbearable,
a pain so pure, it was almost like happiness.

Cheryl Gatling

published in The Sun

Every Day With Baby

As I walked across the bridge she cooed and bounced,
then lurched backward out of my arms,
over the railing. I grabbed. I missed.
Her heavy head cracked on the sidewalk below.

I stumbled on the gravel towpath,
and she rolled into the canal.
The water was so brown I couldn’t find her.
I splashed and groped, touching only fuzzy rocks.

The Doberman at the corner snapped his leash.
He charged too fast. He dragged her off,
gnawed her limbs until the crying stopped.
Yet we made it home, hit by only one truck.

I fed her dinner on which she choked.
I gave her a bath in which she drowned.
I laid her in her bed where she rolled over and suffocated.
Tomorrow when she wakes we will do it again.

Cheryl Gatling

published in Willow Review


It was church rule. All women and girls
must wear a dress that covered their knees.
In the hidey-hole under the hedge behind my house
I hiked my skirt, and hugged my knees.
Each bony knob fit in the cup of one palm,
and my chin fit between them. Wind played
with the baby-fine hairs. Pine needles tickled.
How funny the skin sliding over the kneecaps.
How soft the damp hollows behind,
where my fingers felt my heart beating.
When Mother called, I crawled out. I stood,
and the cotton fell in a ripple down my legs.
Now we would go to church and hear about Jesus.
He died on the cross, but first they stripped him.
He went naked to save us. All Jerusalem,
and all heaven saw his knees,
saw the boat of his hips, the wings of his shoulders,
his ribs, and long bones, and things I dare not name.
I wondered, I did not ask,
how could shame live in any body part,
after God had burned inside it like a sun?

Cheryl Gatling

published in Comstock Review