Joint Winner of The Letter Review Prize for Poetry
Her shriek is raw, snapping all the world’s quiet
As dreams, unborn, tumble into the abyss of almost.
I don’t know this sound; an anguish that pierces my soul.
With what little strength I have, I grab her hand,
Weaving through the grooves of her sorrow,
Though my grip is frail.
The geography of her face is foreign to me,
As the doctor explains the terrain of a pain
I cannot mend. A black hole I cannot save her from.
Nah, this can’t be right. Look again! Refusing to accept my wife’s body,
As the site of such an inexplicable vanishing—
A promise left lingering in the world of daydreams.
She asks me and the doctor to leave the room,
Needing a moment to plead with the universe.
From the hallway, I hear her sobbing, an ocean devouring her smile.
My knuckles meet the steel door of a sterile hospital room,
Attempting to punch away our misfortune, until I can replace it
With something she actually deserves. For all of the IVF shots,
The nights we debated over names, the anxiety attacks about money,
And the moments we pinched ourselves at the idea of being chosen
by Saadiq. Saadiq Joseph.
How do you stitch a wound living in the syllables of a name never called?
There is nothing to say, when spun into a vortex of unspeakable loss.
We spend weeks huddled around grief like a campfire,
Telling silent ghost stories about the people we stopped being
Just days before. Nurturing a flame so small it could be mistaken
In the most somber hours, when the world took its deepest breath,
I sat beside her, staring at the slight crescent of her unhoused belly,
For so long, I swore I heard a heartbeat, but it was actually planets collapsing
In the cavities of my chest. And I wondered, how are we going to survive this,
And in time, my question was answered: Together.
Frederick Joseph is a two-time New York Times bestselling author, activist, philanthropist, and poet. He is also the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2021 Children’s & Young Adults’ Book Award amongst other honors.