I try not to catch it

by katefantastic

you open your mouth & it’s red inside
like a furnace. you stay home sick.
your skin is red, like a burn.
red & shining, surface of a red balloon,
static. so much static between us
the spoon shocks me every time
I bring soup to your chapped lips.
you apologize for the illness, lick
your lips red as the rest of you.

I throw ice packs at you
through the field of static.
you press the cold against
forehead, the backs of your knees.
you put a pack’s corner in your mouth.
I tell you not to bite down,
something about poison.
I’m thinking about white sheets,
white skin flushed red, blue dye
in the ice packs, how it adds up.
I’m thinking you are the united states
of america’s rumpled, nauseated flag.

you fall asleep with your lips
around the ice pack & I pull it out,
afraid of your teeth. I read you a story
out of a cardboard book. there’s not much
to say. you breathe deeply while you sleep
& I watch the blue ice pack on your stomach
move up & down, like cardboard waves
in a school play, a suggested ocean.

I am a terrible nursemaid.
I throw ice packs at myself
in punishment. I learn to juggle,
catch all the ice I throw.
I’m a better clown than I am
a caretaker. I crawl under the bed
& try to fit into your shadow.
The only shadow under the bed
is the rectangle of the bed.
I think you’ve gone missing
until I crawl out & you are
still there. I’m no use
to either of us like this.

when you exhale, the furnace
I made up in your mouth glows
like a candle. your breathing
is a strobe light. on & off
goes the candle. I have to look
away. it starts to seem you
will sleep forever. the static
I made up around your body
starts to seep inside.
you make a quiet roaring
like an empty TV station.
the ice packs are melting.
you’ll wake up floating.
I fall asleep, finally,
you are still sleeping.
I dream you’re a fish.