A Daughter’s Lullaby

by Lily Gontard

Lily Gontard is a writer living in Whitehorse, Yukon. Lily’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in magazines such as Cirque, Own, Event, The New Quarterly, and Up Here. She is a regular contributor to the “Endnotes” section of Geist Magazine.

Hushaby, my little one
Hushaby, my darling

Hushaby,
Hushaby,
Hushaby, my little … 
—Origin unknown

We end as we began
together in a hospital bed
this labour of breaths
an air of patience.
We fit on this single bed. The length of me
along the length of you. As before,
framed by the safety of aluminum rails on both sides
barriers that contain us.

Nearly forty years ago to this July day
you pushed me from your womb, a labour
in the dawn of a hospital room;
Montreal’s humid traffic pressed the streets.
The nurse gave you opiates then,
a propulsion of relief
from the invisible angular tip of a syringe.
Again, the nurses supply you with opiates.
Dilaudid flows into your bloodstream
accessed by a small patch in the shape of a butterfly
landed as a pin prick near your collarbone.

I remember once kissing the length of your arm
from wrist to shoulder, my child’s mouth
landing like a swallowtail following a mineral lick.
My passion made you blush.

In this bed, my left arm curves an archway
framing the crown of your head. My right arm
drapes across a looseness where your breast once was.
We have lain in variations of this formation
before. Nights when I was sick, a flu, convulsions
no surprise to find you not sleeping,
a vigilant mother on the bedroom floor till morning.

Your breath, when I catch it,
is the malty stench of tinned meal replacements
and has cured me of any desire for vanilla, strawberry or chocolate,
also the flavours of ice cream in cup-sized portions
in the communal fridge in the Family Room,
a place to convene for coffee, tea, sweets,
a break from the disciplined orientation of hospital rooms:
beds lined perpendicular to walls, night stand to the left:
the potted plants, greeting cards, photo albums,
cheery balloons tied to plastic sticks.
Night stand to the right: a pyramid of Ensure cans.

Two nights in a row I’ve slept
in the reclined cushion of a La-Z-boy chair.
The nurse brought me a blanket
when I wished for opium.

I’ve eaten starchy snacks from clear plastic containers
bought at the gift shop, and watched “Late Night”
with him or him or him on a small white TV
suspended from an articulated arm above your bed.
The comedians made me laugh.

Suffocation—the thought of taking an action
to end this—flitters in the room. A momentary impulse
I recall once combined with teenage rage
something about
wanting to smash your head into a wall.

We share your room with no one.
The blankets and sheets on the other beds
tucked neatly as “hospital corners,”
you learned that much from nursing training.

It seems excessive, all this open space,
the limitless ice cream, the tranquility,
the opiates, and the gentle hospice light.
The last few hours spent
side-by-side
beginning as we end.

 


Lily Gontard is a writer living in Whitehorse, Yukon. Lily’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in magazines such as Cirque, Own, Event, The New Quarterly, and Up Here. She is a regular contributor to the “Endnotes” section of Geist Magazine.

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