HG Pieces

Michael Levan

The Roll

Home from work after a long and unseasonably warm October day, / the man only wants a few minutes to decompress, / to shed his teaching frustration so he might / transition to being a good husband and father. Instead, / he hears his wife call from their bedroom, / Can you check the oven for me? /

                                                                                                                          He sets down his leather bag, the weight / of just-handed-in papers to grade and two textbooks / finally unslumping his shoulder and heads to the kitchen. / He puts on an oven mitt and opens the door, a blast / of room temperature air and a cold pretzel roll inside. Puzzled, / he tells her, Did you forget to turn it on? / No, she says, it still has to cook a while, / maybe nine months, and then as an aside, / Sorry, we didn’t have any buns in the house.


They’re more careful, more cautious, more guarded / this time. They keep this light under a bushel; / not even the boy is allowed to see it. They don’t want / to explain that to him if it happens again. / They’d rather not have the conversation / with his teachers if he over-shares while fingerpainting / or if he offers an intention to pray for.

                                           They don’t want / to be pitied, so even as they pull him up onto their bed / to take a picture with the blue-ticked test, / tradition started with him and done now / for the third time, they have him focus on the camera / an arm’s-length away. Everything to him is / fine, they suppose. They speak in code, exchange meaningful, / sideways glances while she sets another appointment to be sure again / what’s tested is real. / They do this all to keep their family, hoping / it’s enough to make the universe believe / this is worth protecting.

                                                                                                                                       But they underestimate / what energy they’ve sent out; they misjudge the boy / and what he can pick up on. Driving to the grocery store, / the man and his wife are struck cold / by his small voice from the back say, I hope / this baby stays in Mom’s belly.


The man hates to think / so frequently in lists, which takes him back to his sophomore year / in high school, the months he wrote everything / he needed to accomplish before leaving the house on a Post-It note: / brush teeth, cram for an exam, put his lunch in his backpack, / finish his Algebra 2 homework, set his watch, and zip / his fly. Such relief in striking through / each item, numbered one to twenty-six, sometimes. He was caught / in this obsession, but, oh, how it gave him / order when nothing could be set right enough. /

                                                                                                                    Which is the operative word: order: / methodical or harmonious arrangement; a condition / in which each thing is properly disposed with reference to other things / and to its purpose, order and purpose which have escaped / any definition he has for what he can offer / himself, her, the world large and unforgivingly so.

                                                                                                       The man tries it on again / as he thinks of everything he’s waited for: / his baby sister’s entrance to the family. The Christmas he snooped / and expected a new tennis racquet that wasn’t tucked / under the tree or given until the next day because his mother forgot / she had bought and wrapped it. The new Pearl Jam album and Opening Day, / the moment his true high school love would notice / all the ways he noticed her, and then her kiss / he’s still left to want the mornings after she’s arrived / in dream. Him to mean more / to his second love than she does to him. His wedding day / to, finally, his true love. Her sickness / to end. His son’s birth, which came four days late, / then only because Pitocin helped ease him into day’s light. / Her want, her desire, her longing and ache / for another. Three months to pass after—. / The silence that followed the boy’s chirped I hope to end. / This next test to confirm and its results, / her sickness to come, or maybe not / if the milk thistle and B-vitamins can clean her system, / flush away what HG brings to bear. /

                                                                                                                                               He crosses each out in his mind, / the black pen firm while bisecting each letter, each word / into what was, but what will be / still free to fracture his belief.

In the Blood

She balls her fingers into a fist, / and the vial fills thick red. The phlebotomist labels it, / preps the glass tube for shipment to the lab, / and tells her, They’ll call soon as she falls into / a coughing fit. The man leans out the door, / looking for a wastebasket she can hiccup sick into, / a sign they consider accurate as any blood test. /

              But still, they must have results: / an hCG level above 25 mIU/ml, a better sign / what’s happening is true. In three days, she is / to come again and expect a doubling / of this first result, then a second doubling six days later, / and on and on for the next long while. / Proof of what they cannot see is in her / blood, triggering this hormonal surge. It’s enough / to have him wonder at her body’s small miracle, / to be jealous of it, too.


So far, so good, they tell her on the phone, / the numbers just about right, below the twofold jump, / yes, but the level fair enough sign / her body has responded properly. But we’ll keep / an eye out next time, they say, and once this is relayed / to the man, he can’t help but laugh / at the possibility of watching what’s measured / in milli-international units per milliliter grow large enough / to “see.” Even when they reach their peak in the hundreds / of thousands, could he hold that number / in his hands? Could he feel its weight? Could he / do anything but accept the results some machine / has given them? Because even a great number / of small things is hard to trust in, is still hopeless / to figure, to reckon, to wrap his mind around. / He will have to wait for her body to grow and grow, / and even then, he must still wait with his hands / on her belly for the flutter she swears is real.


The next several days, she fights the growing / nausea, the fear every part of her life will be filtered / through whether she can eat a little, how much she might sleep, / how many times she’ll retch before her throat burns / and her whole body shakes from the want / to give up.

                                                                       He sees it all and begins / to steel himself against the possibility of ER visits / and home health care, for her to bow out / of her duty as mother. Mostly, though, he prepares / to be alone in a house full of people who need him / more than he can offer.