Shortly after dying

I wanted to come back

but the world
didn’t want me.

Your face was a blank

that still

a blanket
that hides a face

erased page

sheet we might
have slept beneath
without touching.

Before I died,
I cradled an infant.

I sang it lull-a-byes.
Aren’t all songs?

But it kept crying.

Its face frightened me,

a fevered balloon
of blood about to burst.

I swaddled it tighter,

rocked it in my arms.
I began to wonder
what it might feel like

to set it down
on the cool metal
of the train tracks

or drop it
from a bridge

and watch its blanket unfurl
wings of seagulls

shatter into a river.

A drop of oil
burning at a center.

I carried it around. My arms
grew tired.

No one else would touch it.

Its face
was becoming skeletal.

It would not eat.
The milk was sour.

We lived
after an apocalypse.

We wandered
our urban desert.

Sometimes, we sat
on a playground swing

and watched the man with stumps
for arms and legs
dance on the sidewalk for food.

I felt ashamed.

It kept on crying.

The rats in the park

swarmed in the black grass.
The sky was starless.
I pulled it closer into my chest.

I muted its hot breath.

Ely Shipley‘s first book, Boy with Flowers, won the 2007 Barrow Street Press book prize and the 2009 Thom Gunn Award. His poems and lyric essays have appeared in the Western Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, Fugue, Gulf Coast, Phoebe, Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Barrow Street, Lo-Ball, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah, an MFA from Purdue University, and currently teaches literature and writing at Baruch College-CUNY.