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One to Watch, And One to Pray


We passed the baby over the bed, and later we passed tissue,
      and her Bible with its onion skin pages, its highlighted lessons
and dog-eared parables she kept handy with bookmarks
      whose tassels hung and swayed as her hair
might have done when she was very sweet and very young,
      and when we had finished what reading we would read,
we stopped a little while to register the pleasant song
      the woman on the stereo was singing, and then the baby
cried for milk, and so we passed her back across the bed,
      which is when someone asked if there was any more water
and we passed the water over her lips with the swab the nurses gave us
      just for this, a square pink bubblegum lollipop-looking deal
like the treats she used to give us when we were very sweet
      and very young, and someone came with roses,
and though we smelled the flowers because we hoped for something better
      than the smell that lingered all around us, hothouse flowers
look alive long after their lively smells have faded, so when someone came in
      with cards, we passed the cards and flowers over the bed and stood them up
with the other cards and flowers on the little stand of white plastic and chrome
      that passed for a bedside table in that place, and when a friend came in
who hadn't met the baby, we passed the baby over the bed
      and the friend said, she's so sweet, and when a cousin came
who knew things few of us knew, we listened to stories
      from when both of them were very young, and when someone cried
we passed the tissue over the bed, and when someone said, she's so small now,
      we remembered the pink square bubblegum lollipop swab,
and when the nurse said, you can tell by how she breathes,
      someone got the Bible from the little chrome and plastic stand,
and when someone said, it's okay to leave, we didn't want to
      do a thing, and though several days later someone told me
people somewhere in West Africa pass a baby over the bed
      of a dying person to say there will always be new bodies
to celebrate and mourn, that night we only knew the baby needed a change
      and someone had to take her, and so we passed the baby
over the bed and decided who would stay to watch her go.


Camille Dungy

Virginia Quarterly Review

Fall 2012


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