Camille T. Dungy

One To Watch, And One To Pray

We passed the baby over the bed, and later we passed tissue,

            and her Bible with its onion skin pages, its highlighted lessons

and dog-eared parables she kept handy with bookmarks

            whose tassels hung and swayed as her hair

might have done when she was very sweet and very young,

            and when we had finished what reading we would read,

we stopped a little while to register the pleasant song

            the woman on the stereo was singing, and then the baby

cried for milk, and so we passed her back across the bed,

            which is when someone asked if there was any more water

and we passed the water over her lips with the swab the nurses gave us

            just for this, a square pink bubblegum lollipop looking deal

like the treats she used to give us when we were very sweet

            and very young, and someone came with roses,

and though we smelled the flowers because we hoped for something better

            than the smell that lingered all around us, hothouse flowers

look alive long after their lively smells have faded, so when someone came in

            with cards, we passed the cards and flowers over the bed and stood them up

with the other cards and flowers on the little stand of white plastic and chrome

            that passed for a bedside table in that place, and when a friend came in

who hadn’t met the baby, we passed the baby over the bed

            and the friend said, she’s so sweet, and when a cousin came

who knew things few of us knew, we listened to stories

            from when both of them were very young, and when someone cried

we passed the tissue over the bed, and when someone said, she’s so small now,

            we remembered the pink square bubblegum lollipop swab,

and when the nurse said, you can tell by how she breathes,

            someone got the Bible from the little chrome and plastic stand,

and when someone said, it’s okay to leave, we didn’t want to

            do a thing, and though several days later someone told me

people somewhere in West Africa pass a baby over the bed

            of a dying person to say there will always be new bodies

to celebrate and mourn, that night we only knew the baby needed a change

            and someone had to take her, and so we passed the baby

over the bed and decided who would stay to watch her go.



“One to Watch, and One to Pray” first appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, fall 2012.