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"NICU" by Lisa Ludden

"NICU" by Lisa Ludden

by Lisa Ludden


In the quieting room, the machine hum

settles into the periphery.

The soft rise

and fall of your breath marks time.

Your body, barely encumbered,

stretches under the jaundice lamp.


wants to know you.


I watch you move. Turn.

I know the pain of that turn.

Tuck legs. Roll on your side,

bones press into the mattress.

Pressure the pain to release.

Pressure relieving pressure.

Fluid-filled body folded up

looking inward. Not ready.

Lungs outline the skin of your chest.

Drop as they hit your chest cavity,

scrape as they rise to fall again.

How I begin to learn you.

I hold your hand, the one free of sensors.

Watery eyes ask for softer light.

I’m trying not to see the C-PAP,

feeding tube down your throat,

sensors on your chest and feet.

Wires hold you to monitors

I’ll hear deep in the night,

months after I take you home,

out of this place that does not know

day or night—only a blue hospital hue.

It’s later, when I hold you to my chest,

that we learn to breathe in time.

Lisa Ludden is the author of the chapbook Palebound (Flutter Press, 2017). A finalist for the Red Wheelbarrow Poetry Prize 2018, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in UnbrokenCommon Ground Review580 SplitPermafrostStonecoast ReviewNatural BridgeMockingHeart Review, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on her first full-length book of poetry.

(Photo source: CHOC Children’s)

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