Mark Wagenaar

400 grams
by Mark Wagenaar

As melancholy goes, reading the discovery
of a desert whale cemetery on a phone
in a bathroom is up there with a Hopper painting—

that something you share with the one patron
at the diner, in a light that feels as lonely
as this bathroom’s, but a loneliness that is nothing

next to the preemie baby on the scale.
She comes in above 400 grams—the cutoff
in England for continuing food & care, the cutoff

for life—even after her knit cap is removed,
her thimble-size cap. And all I want is to tell
this story to someone, to the next guy I see,

except he’s going through the bathroom garbage,
looking for God knows what, surrounded
by paper towels, many of them still bearing

their handprints, as if this were a Lascaux
of an hour only. Suppose the story, perhaps older
than the painted cave, that has our hearts—

or what’s left, sorrow or gratitude or guilt—
weighed in the hereafter on a scale against
a feather, is true. Wouldn’t the judgment

depend on the moment we leave? So this man
in front of me might need a car battery
or whale bone to even the scale right now.

But someone having read a story on a baby,
who survived because a tiny pair of scissors
that were left on the scale pushed her weight

past 400 grams, might need a pair of moth wings
to even things, a soap bubble, might in his joy
need something like the far side of a cry

never uttered to level the scale. For each of us,
once the confluence of two cries, it might be
something as small as mercy that leaves us lighter,

something as faint as the prints that a hand leaves
as it leaves us, chalklines from ourselves
to the past, hands that will bear up some part of us

at the end, something weightless, too fine to be seen.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 3.

Mark WagenaarMark Wagenaar is the 2012 winner of the Felix Pollak Prize for ‘Voodoo Inverso.’ This year he has also won the Greg Grummer Poetry Award, the Gary Gildner Poetry Award, & the contests of Fugue, Columbia: A Journal of Literature & Art, & Oberon Poetry Magazine.

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