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Featured Poem: "Portrait of My Parents Making Love as a Stomach Virus" by Lauren Schmidt

April 13, 2012

Portrait of My Parents Making Love as a Stomach Virus

Lauren Schmidt

For two days, my father’s eyes
--------were socked in fog. His body’s heat

rose on a high flame. His face was
--------a withered pocket for nose and chin,

skin a dim bulb of sweat the color
--------of water when a drop of blood

seeps in. For two days, his bowels churned
--------drippy stool, his stomach’s switch

on forward then reverse. For two days,
--------his lips quivered with stringy spittle.

The chunks spattered around the toilet
--------suggested a strict diet of salsa. For two days,

ass or face-first we determined
--------by the explosion of auditory anomalies

that rattled the door. For two days,
--------this was his lot. On the third day,

he buckled in the downstairs bathroom
--------doorjamb, forearms pinned on either side.

Get Mom he gurgled before his head dropped,
--------chin to chest. Get Mom. The order throbbed

in my head, counted the seconds before
--------my virus-whipped father collapsed. Get Mom.

Get Mom. My gut pumped with nervous blood
--------and all I could think of was my father’s belly,

the fat of it, folded over the elastic band
--------of his sweatpants, the sight of his navel, branched

with hair encroaching from his groin. Witness-sick. Get Mom.
--------I wanted to run away, not run for help, but: Get Mom.

Get Mom. The orbs of sweat yellowing his underarms,
--------the pungent ale of his body and his breath. Yet,

when I returned with her, she did not hesitate to hold him,
--------to bear that dreadful body with her body.

Dreadful belly against her belly, my father flung
--------over her, exhausted. He looked like that once,

in the morning, through the crack in the door,
--------in that hazy moment-after. My father’s cheek

mashed against her chest so his face looked made of clay.
--------Embracing her, his forearm gently squashed her

breast against the side of her tired body. And there, I watched
--------two bellies swelling with breath, lifting as if to kiss,
----------------------------------------and kiss, and kiss again.

Winner of the BLR's 2012 Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry, selected by Cornelius Eady.

"Sometimes, when I get lucky, I write a poem in one shot. The memory of my father’s illness was so vivid that I didn’t have to think too much about the language I used, and the vast majority of the poem was left untouched from the first draft." - Lauren Schmidt describes what inspired her to write "Portrait of My Parents..." Read more of our interview with Lauren.

Read more from this issue or order a copy.

Learn more about Lauren's new book, Psalms of the Dining Room.