The Haven House for Homeless Women and Children
For Jaslin and her daughter
My babyfather passed away last night,
Jaslin whispered. Passed away. That phrase was my mother’s the day
she sat at my bed’s edge to wake me. She rested her hands
on my belly, sighed, Grandpa passed away this morning,
then trembled. This is how we go, I, at sixteen, believed, gently,
with family at your bedside. I tried to imagine what passed away looked like—
more peaceful than the look of the hair on my mother’s unslept head,
her snot-nose and pinch-face — but, new to death then,
I could only think of my silver fish, how its scaly skin skimmed the water,
how its tailfin drooped like a tired eyelid, how my dead pet limped over the lip
of the bowl I tilted above toilet water, the plinksplash
the corpse made, how water’s resistance
slowed the fish’s sinking.
You ain’t gonna tell your child that, Qunisha said, half-asking. She meant
that Jaslin can’t tell her daughter how her daddy died —
how a body bursts into bloody fishlips in thirteen places,
how car windows trap splattered bits of flesh, how slowly
gunshot skin slides down windshield glass. She can’t tell her daughter
how daddy’s cotton shirt stuck to the gum of blood, how the radio
played and played before the cops came, how a boy
with a backpack saw everything and ran away.
No, tonight Jaslin will lower herself
to the edge of her daughter’s bed and invent a story,
one where her father passed away. Tonight, a mother’s words will fall
slowly, as if through water, and a child will burst the way
a balloon bursts at the kiss of a pin tip. Tonight,
a coroner will dab a dead father’s wounds with gauze.
Lauren Schmidt is the author of three collections of poetry: Two Black Eyes and a Patch of Hair Missing; The Voodoo Doll Parade, selected for the Main Street Rag Author’s Choice Chapbook Series; and Psalms of The Dining Room, a sequence of poems about her volunteer experience at a soup kitchen in Eugene, Oregon. Her work has appeared in such journals as Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle, Nimrod, Fifth Wednesday Journal, New York Quarterly, Bellevue Literary Review and The Progressive. Her awards include the So to Speak Poetry Prize, the Neil Postman Prize for Metaphor, and the Bellevue Literary Review’s Vilcek Prize for Poetry. Schmidt is an Instructor of Development Reading and Writing at Passaic County Community College and volunteer teaches creative writing at a transitional house for homeless mothers.