Getting the Switch
You couldn’t pick any ole’ branch,
later, your behind would surely
feel it. So you ran your hand
through the bush—measuring
wood’s toughness, hidden green
youth, selecting a simple branch,
no twigs, only a clean sweep needed
to strip it, unleashing a swirling
cascade of leaves, like a wind
before a thunderstorm.
Whippings―it’s the prescient knowledge
that brings forth those early, hot tears.
Centered in the palm of your hand
this switch, this carver of air,
of red welts and whoosh. For all
its singing sting, you forget the crime,
remember only the punishment―how you
were made to be complicit in your own pain.
No salve but your flesh to soothe anger’s tempest.
Between the memorized route to the cafeteria,
dry-erase boards for the next nurse to mark her name,
the yellow sad faces to measure pain,
my mom taught me to play
gin rummy in a hospital. It was the day
the doctors stopped my baby brother’s heart,
sewed it up, started it again. We stole the blanket
they returned him in, as if we needed a fabric reminder
of the seconds his heart was still, of the hours we waited,
playing rummy to 1,000 and 1,000 and 1,000 again.
Years later, it’s that smell I can’t forget: crisp, medicinal,
even after countless cleanings, the retained scent of sweat,
tainted with fear. Thin white blankets, freshly folded
on the foot of my boyfriend’s father’s bed. And when
I cannot look at his family huddled in shock and sorrow,
adjusting to the verdict of cancer,
I look at the blankets, the hospital name
stamped in blue, on every single blanket. Mercy.
Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint (Gival Press, 2016). She is a Cave Canem fellow, and member of the Black Ladies Bruch Collective. She has attended the Soul Mountain Writer's Retreat, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hedgebrook, the Community of Writers, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Her poems have been published in many anthologies including Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade, Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC, and Not Without Our Laughter. She is the Poetry Coordinator at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC and resides in Silver Spring, MD with her husband, poet Hayes Davis and their two children. To read more by this author: Teri Ellen Cross: Summer 2004 Teri Ellen Cross's Introduction to The Evolving City issue, Fall 2007 Teri Ellen Cross: Split This Rock Issue