Nickole Brown


We have heard her tell the story
over and again, like this: an early spring
tornado, a still, yellow sky,
nuns who said must have felt better
going in than it does
coming out
as they gave her
a hot compress and dimmed the lights
for pain.
She was half my age now,
barely healed when God smacked
half the trees flat and curled her down
under a mattress
in an empty bathtub
in an empty apartment,
a newborn suckling
the tips of her fingers. The porcelain,
cool as death, was a white womb, an open
drain ready to forget how a month before
she didn’t know better
but to sit up and grab the slippery blue
feet first, an impossible breech, a twist
with a snap that meant
leg braces, special shoes, a grown woman
who would never walk right
in red heels. Cramped in this shelter,
she wanted the sweetness of the word
birth but knew better now. Birth
meant forceps, rips, umbilical cords
wrapped around the neck. Birth kneaded
the abdomen for more birth, recovered
with douche singed with a drop or two of Lysol,
boiled a set of glass baby bottles in the same
pot that made the pinto beans. Not much more
to hold and so she touched
the blue leg of her bruised baby, cooed
footling, thinking it sounded
more like the name of some imp
than a complication, footling, her shape-shifter
sleeping inside the cup of a trumpet vine,
footling, because she was so young
and who could blame her, dreaming
away and waiting while wind
plucked off pieces of home,
peeled shingles back from rooftops
one by one.

Nickole Brown
“Footling” is from Sister (Red Hen Press, 2007).