To Avoid or to Embrace

By Matthew T. Birdsall

The Children’s Hospital is hyperaware of itself
—all this youthful sickness, sadness everywhere—
so it dons cartoonish decor and displays of smiling families
around every corner, in every poster, on every screen.
It feels so forced, but I get it—no one wants
to be known as the joyless Children’s Hospital.

I can’t decide if I’m reading poems
in my daughter’s room in the Neurology wing
to avoid or to embrace how I’m feeling
about a doctor-ordered-5-days-and-nights stay
with my 9-year-old without her epilepsy meds
waiting for seizures to happen during a pandemic
because we need to record baseline data over time
to make future decisions and this is where we start.

I convince myself it’s not my feelings,
it’s that they’re mixing sentimentality into the recycled air—
pumping hastily wrought emotions into my daughter’s room
because I can’t even read bad poems without tearing up—
maudlin poems about dads dying, mooshy poems
about wading into the ocean to die, high-and-mighty poems
proclaiming they know what’s good for my soul.

I set my book down to get away from the words
watching my daughter watching an animated movie—
an anthropomorphic disguising of humanity’s beautiful flaws
because just like with the children’s hospital decor
adults repackage reality in colorful, shiny cartoons
when they think children will be upset.

A character is ranting at the naive, altruistic protagonist:
Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song
and your insipid dreams magically come true!

I wonder if the hospital is listening, smirking,
as my daughter grins, snuggles closer, and disappears
blissfully into a drawn-out song-and-dance number.
For now, she is content and she asks me how I’m feeling.
I smile back and lie, telling her I’ve never been better
and there’s no place I’d rather be

Matthew T. Birdsall lives in Dayton, Ohio with his wife and two daughters. His
first book was The Long and Short of It. He has been published in the journals
Slippery Elm and Nexus, and he’s the Editor of Mock Turtle Zine.

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