Lancaster General Hospital and Other Poems

Lancaster General Hospital

Someone should have told him it was wrong to arrive late
with his ex-girlfriend Claire LaBelle pulling the tail of his shirt.
She begs him in French to come back to her—
Tu me manques. S’il vous plaît, reviens moi. S’il vous plaît.

My mother, holding me in her arms, wakes me up
in our hospital bed. We’re picking new lives now, she says.
We’re going to flee this place now that I’m born.
Now that I’ve time-traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

But women in my father’s life keep joining us. Alive or dead.
One with her feet on the bed, another flipping
the channels to talk shows. The rest in the waiting room.
Waiting for my father, I guess.

My mother says, This is no high school or village reunion!
This is a hospital full of other women her husband
almost loved but couldn’t marry—like the neighbor
he begged to leave with him after the war,

and the woman who loved him in the Thai camp,
but he didn’t have money, nothing to ask for her hand.
In love and war, a man has many refugees.
No place to go. He can’t leave the room.

The nurse weighs me on a scale. I’m seven pounds.
She says my hearing is good, that I can hear the fighting
in the distance, a brawl by the border
and the trees intercepting bullets stuck in them for decades.

Claire LaBelle stands behind the blue flower curtain,
Pourquoi m’as-tu quitté? Pourquoi? She almost cries,
she doesn’t realize she’s not in Toronto right now,
that it’s been so long, my father forgot French.

Poor Claire LaBelle, with a name like that,
I think you’re a pop star. Sing us a song about an immigrant love
your family couldn’t accept. I look to my mother:
Get my father out of here. Before he can deny what’s happening,

a missile shoots out of the sky. He leaves. The women leave.
The room empty, my mother turns into that mushroom cloud
in the distance. I hover with her, she takes me through the window
to show me how I got here.


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