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STILL-HILDRETH SANATORIUM, 1936 /David Baker When she wasn't on rounds she was counting the silver and bedpans, the pills Ui white cups, heads Ui their beds, or she was scrubbing down walls streaked with feces and food on a whitewash of hours past midnight and morning, down corridors quickened with shadows, with screaming, the laminate of cheap disinfectant . . . and what madness to seal them together, infirm or insane, whom the state had deemed mad. Thefirst time I saw them strapped in those beds, caked with sores, some ofthem crying or coughing up coal, some held in place with cast-iron weights ... I would waken again. Her hands fluttered blue by my digital clock, and I lay shaking, exhausted, soaked cold Ui soiled bedclothes or draft. I choked on my pulse. I ached from the weight of her stairstep quilt. Each night was a door slipping open Ui the dark. Imagine, a white suitfor gimlets at noon. This was my Hollywood star, come to be lost among dirtfarmers and tubercular poor. He'd beenforgotten when the talkies took hold. He saw toads in webs drooping over his bed. O noiseless patient, his voice would quake. He took to sawing his cuticles with butter knives down to the bone and raw blood in the dark. Then, he would lie back and waitfor more drug. 118 . The Missouri Review And this was my illness, constant, insomnolent, a burning of nerve-hairs just under the eyeUds, corneal, limbic, under the skin, arterial, osteal, scrotal, until each node of the 400 was a pin-point of lymphic fire and anguish as she rocked beside me in the family dark. In another year she would unspool fabrics and match threads at Penney's, handling finery among friends just a few blocks from the mansionturned -sickhouse. She would sing through the war a nickel back a greenback a sawbuck a penny and, forty years later, die with her only daughter, my mother, to hold her, who washed her face, who changed her bed gowns and suffers to this day over the dementia of the old woman weeping mama mama, curled like cut hair from the pam of her own ceUs bUrthing Ui splinters of glass. What madness to be driven so deep into self . . . I would waken and find her there, waiting with me through the bad nights when my heart trembled clear through my skin, when my fat gut shivered and wouldn't stop, when my liver swelled, when piss burned through me like rope against rock. She never knew it was me, my mother still says. Yet what did I know Ui the chronic room where I died each night and didn't die, where the evening news and simple sitcoms set me weeping and broken? I never got used to it. I think ofit often, down on my knees in the dark, cleaning up blood or trying tofeed them—who lost 8 children to the Flu, who murdered her sisters, who was broken in two David Baker The Missouri Review · 229 by a rogue tractor, who cast offhis name . . . Sometimes there was nothing the doctor could do. What more can we know Ui our madness than this? Someone slipped through my door to be there —though I knew she was a decade gone— whispering stories and cooling my forehead, and all I could do Ui the heritable darkness was lift Uke a good child my face to be kissed. 220 · The Missouri Review David Baker FOR THE OTHERS/David Baker It's almost nothing the way fireflies flare every foot or so under wings of grass on the calm lawns, like matchheads struck down coarse cloth or stoplights blinking blocks away green to gold on the slick street. In answer each corresponds to the last. Once I came to be cheek level to this earth. I lay among others—still, glittering glass. Dusk had gone down to dark and the usual, slight traffic stalled into one strand of a web dampened and lit like a slip of moonlight up the long way to the sky. I was flung from the wreck at the speed of light. I closed my eyes, spinning with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 118-124
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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