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CNF: A Daughter Contemplates

by Michelle Bitting

 

How strokes and seizures have put him in the hospital again. We come to say hello. He’s eating chicken in a chair— parmigiana, salad, ranch dressing and a roll. Better than yesterday! Says the nurse. His mind was on a boat, somewhere in San Diego, yanking at tubes, the strapped-on oxygen. Arm restraints. He who never held back, stomping I am the King! around the house, his throne front and center. After all the chaos, here is his final crown— an EEG meter reading the heady Zeus bolts— his aim, his honor under fire. I could object how old age and infirmity so mercifully erase the past in a white room where his face— so genuinely sweet, so delighted to see me— as if my little boy, as if. What is this all about? My mother at her window repeating doctor reports, struggling to get it straight, comb it along her own ravaged folds. Half a century he marched us, the spoils doled, the strict conditions— captives and a promise of allegiance— my brothers not able to make it, buried out there in ghost country. The quality of mercy grows strained. His wife, his perennial sun sits confused, not knowing if rising or setting, a waning orb. Hands that grasp at keys can’t hold where they go— locked in a crib if it comes to it. They don’t believe I won’t bolt, silly, so long ago I left but look how machines beep on. He finishes his sorbet, the hospital tray I’ve placed outside, needing to head home. He moves to stand, thinking he’s going with me, forgetting the nightie, the tube sucking gold between his legs. Alarms will go off, the nurses come running if he tries. He looks to me, hoping for reprieve, and for a moment I love him mistaking me. Whoever it is he believes I am.

 

Michelle Bitting was short-listed for the 2023 CRAFT Character Sketch Challenge, the 2020 Montreal International Poetry Prize, the 2021 Fish Poetry Contest judged by Billy Collins, and a finalist for the 2021 Coniston Prize and 2020 Reed Magazine Edwin Markham Prize. She won Quarter After Eight’s 2018 Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest and was a finalist for the 2021 Ruminate Magazine, 2019 Sonora Review and New Millennium Flash Prose contests. She is the author of five poetry collections, Good Friday Kiss, winner of the inaugural DeNovo First Book Award; Notes to the Beloved, which won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award; The Couple Who Fell to Earth; Broken Kingdom, winner of the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize; and Nightmares & Miracles (Two Sylvias Press, 2022), winner of the Wilder Prize and recently named one of Kirkus Reviews 2022 Best of Indie. Her chapbook Dummy Ventriloquist is forthcoming in 2024. Bitting is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Literature at Loyola Marymount University.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “A Daughter Contemplates”?

Writing ‘A Daughter Contemplates’ wasn’t easy due to the critical and complex family situation(s) referenced that continue to confound and haunt me and my work. Still, the words came fast, in a flood that I attribute to the watershed effect of the psyche unleashed and prompted by distressing, unexpected events. In terms of formal considerations, the poem was written in verse, but then needed the container of the prose poem with justified margins to hold all its significant viscera and with tension. A little story that leaps around and about the writer’s memory and current physical experience that feels strangely at odds and defamiliarized in relation to the past. And yet, the view is somehow miraculously new? Maybe poems, in their own way, help us bridge these impossible and oft irreconcilable differences, or at least liberate space to allow the needs of seemingly discordant forces: body & psyche, honesty & mercy to ride alongside in peace, and in conversation with each other.

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