A Small Thing Like a Breath, by Anthony Abbott

from New & Selected Poems (Lorimer, 2009), Second Place 2010 Oscar Arnold Young Award for Outstanding Poetry Book

A Small Thing Like a Breath
by Anthony Abbott

How cheap words are. How easy to say,
“I love you,” knowing not even the surface
of the word. How easy to say, “I’d die for you,”
knowing not even the icy edge of death, nor even
his outer garments.

Then you bear a child. You carry a life
in the darkness of your womb for nine uneasy
months. The child descends, bumping the fragile
edges of its unformed skull against the walls
of your pelvic bone. He enters the world wailing.

For a time the machines help him breathe.
You cannot hold him because of the wires,
the sensors which monitor each vital function
and so you sit by his side and give him your
finger to hold, and you watch his tiny,
perfectly formed nails curl around you
and after many hours you are still not tired,
not finished marveling at the wonder you have
created and you know that you could, indeed
would die for this son, this glorious, heartbreaking
selfish, beautiful son.

And every night you continue
to marvel, week after week, month after month.
Every night before sleep you tiptoe into his room
and listen to each small breath and watch the way
he seems to smile and how his eyelashes curl upward.

And later you will keep pictures, you will mark
his first step and the awkward, rounded shapes
of his first letters. You will shout with joy
for his first line drive and cry for the pink
cotton sheep he makes in Sunday school on Easter.

And when he hurts you will know the very marrow
of love, how pain for his pain takes you
in its arms and grips like icy night. Then,
when you speak of love and death, you will do so
not lightly, but with bowed head and hushed respect
for a small thing like a breath.


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2 Responses to “A Small Thing Like a Breath, by Anthony Abbott”

  1. CrazyChemist Says:

    This is the most beautiful poem I have ever read. I read it first at the NICU when washing hands to see our son.

  2. Joan L. Cannon Says:

    Perfect–from the point of view of any parent who couldn’t imagine the name before becoming one. It was the inspiration for a poem I wrote, but felt I shouldn’t give the title “After Reading Anthony Abbott.” I just wanted you to know you inspire as well as strike a universal chord.

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