Cholera, Drowning, and the Firstborn You Wished For


Take the tightening skin of your belly
as an answer to a prayer we already

abandoned. We decided to separate
weeks ago, and at your initial appointment,

when the nurse asked if this was our first child,
what could we do but offer an exhausted smile

in response? At your second visit we hear
the ambient rush of blood and a swift heart.

Not until we arrive home do I

weep openly for the names we had chosen
but have so                     gradually forgotten.


The cholera pandemic spreads from
the very thing it deprives. The body

shrivels, the lips dry and crack. The glassy,
sunken eyes no longer yield any tears.

This is one version of prayer I carry
in my hand. In the other, I hold those

who drown, ones who become nothing
but tears. They fill themselves, transformed by it.

Their skin macerates and turns different shades
of water. An ocean of fluid passes through

both victims the way spirit passes through all
flesh. It is the tragic function of life to work

only in excess: one suffers from too little,
the other              too much.


The baby inside you cushions itself
with amniotic fluid, holds the barrier

of your uterus at bay. The child is already
subject to the laws of water much like

our friends who watched helplessly this winter
as their basement flooded, the rain prolific.

In a soggy box—baby clothes and toys
never used. We wanted you two to have

her stuff, they said, she never had a chance
to play with them.
How do you respond

to such a statement? I stand silent, clasping
my hands. No matter what we replied

it would be the stillness everyone remembers:
the quiet born in the drought of our reaction

and its twin arriving soon after in the earnest,
but ultimately futile       deluge of language.

Michael Schmeltzer is a writer living in Seattle, Washington. He earned an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. He writes reviews for A River & Sound Review> and has been published or has work forthcoming in Water~Stone Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, and pacificREVIEW, among others. (mschmeltzer01@yahoo.com)

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761