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The doctor calls it Tammy Flu

as if it were a person.


I drive behind a car

with the license plate “AHA”

sunk into this wash of sickness

so deep I can’t tell

whether it’s morning or night.

Night punctuated by sleep,


interrupted by calls
from the yellow bedroom.

In the next city over, my son’s

piano teacher tells me,

the incubators are full.

Sick infants allowed no visitors.

The younger son has beaten the older

in the category “highest fever.”

If sickness were a contest,
he would win. If whining were

a contest, he would also win.

The doctor swabs my son’s nose

by which I mean she places

a thin wooden stick

at the side of his mouth to measure

its depth, then goes all the way

back through one nostril.
That afternoon, his nose bleeds

then stops. At night, I stay

in the room to make sure

he is still breathing. I wish

I’d never read the news story

about the mother putting her sick child

to bed, then drinking her coffee

the next morning, Christmas, thinking

that it’s nice having time

to herself, only her child upstairs

no longer breathing. My son

snores, thrashes, moves

from floor to bed and

back again. He sleeps half on
half off the mattress. I sit next to him,

the blue light of my screen

washing everything with panic.

What if I hear the voice, he asks,

you know, the one that says

you’re about to burn. I tell him

the angel will watch, not

the purple angel carved from stone

on his bedside table but the one

that is actual, though invisible,

the one who has promised

to watch over his life.
Is Jesus a grownup, he asks me

over breakfast the next morning.

I tell him that Jesus was

an interesting boy who liked

to learn. I leave out

the part about him abandoning

his parents, going missing

on purpose. My son will not

climb the stairs without

my hand in his. He tells me

he is scared of the house.

That night the kettle turns on

without warning in the next room.


I walk in to find a blue light

cast over everything

and the switch snapping off,
as if in response to my attention.

There is no water inside, but

I take the time to make

a cup of peppermint tea

because it seems like

the right thing to do.
Is he with you, the parents ask

each other frantically

when it is clear the child

is no longer there. My brothers

when younger would hide

in the center of the circled
bolts of cloth at the fabric store.

The women with sharp steel

scissors at the counter

would shake their heads
when my mother was not looking.

The brothers survived

to adulthood

with various deficits,
as we all have. With my son

sick I am too shaken
to offer my hands in healing.

Shaken, as a leaf, the cliché goes.

I study the tree’s form

through the window, note

the flock of birds who pass

and gather on the ground under

the feeder that I keep filling.

I buy my son Lucky Charms,

chocolate milk, rainbow

popsicles and say to him

It is your lucky day. Jesus,

the child, that is, once wrapped

a bird in his hands and

brought its beating heart back

to life. Or was it that he formed

the bird from the earth
at his feet, spat on it, then molded

the bird until it was a bird

that he set free into the sky.

The tests come back negative
but the medicine, it seems to help.

The fever releases my son slowly.

Tammy Flu’s visitation, it seems,

has been a success. She lays

her hands on my son’s

sweltering forehead. His skin

glows with heat. I cannot

see her face beneath her hair,

but she has done her work.

The frostbitten outdoors

keeps its cold countenance

turned away. Snow passes

over and around our house

in the rough January wind

but does not come to rest.

 JL Conrad

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