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Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero
Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero


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As Far As I Could Tell

After they pulled my wisdom tooth both eyeballs
ached into their moorings. Something with spurs
had lodged behind my eardrum. Dawn came, vague
with codeine and the sound of rain, sheets drenched.
I had to be reminded what this meant.
Francie nudged me, “Brooks, my water broke.”

In the delivery room that afternoon
wrack of childbirth put toothache to shame.
No screams, but Francie sang with it,
a riven octave higher than her speaking voice.
Her blood splashed onto the doctors’ shoes.

Someone we had never met held up our daughter
Miriam by the shanks, terrifyingly pale blue
and cheesy in her varnish, with her arms hung down.

The doctors’ hands pushed into the dough of Francie’s belly
where it had been taut, and shifted down Twin B,
whose head in a loop of cord pinched off the bloodflow
into her brain. Francie, forceps huge,
tearing between her legs, still sang. She pushed,
and beads of sweat stood quivering in her face.

Lillie came out smaller, bluer, wearier.
The doctors handed Miriam to me
to show her mother, while they worked on Lillie
who had made no sound. Francie, not yet stitched,
lay calm, blood trickling into a large pool
on the floor. I held up Miriam, and felt

my toothache throb, the surge inside my chest,
fear building. Codeine made no difference.
Francie shivered. It was raining, nightfall.
I was kissing her, with Miriam
between us in my arms. And Lillie cried.

Excerpted from Nakedness, Death, and the Number Zero by Brooks Haxton Copyright 2001 by Brooks Haxton. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.