It’s honest dirt, blackening his fingers, though a shock
against the newborn’s head—he knows how to cradle
a newborn, has a natural way of rocking just a little
as we talk, and the mother’s on her cell phone in the hall.
You can see how much he loves the child. I don’t mind
the ragged jacket, the leather vest plastered with patches:
Vietnam vet, Harley-Davidson, Gypsy Motor Tour,
Native Riders. He’s earned the black and iron gray braid
hanging down his back. He whispers to the babies scalp,
kisses a patch of sparse pale hair, his huge hands cross
around her buttocks, knuckles spelling L-O-V-E H-A-T-E.
I explain the signs of illness to look for, give him my home
phone number. He warms a bottle under the faucet, shakes
a few drops on his wrist, the baby pale as milk against
his arm. We’ll recheck a weight in two weeks. Does he have
any questions. Yes, do we do DNA testing? Her last boy friend’s
kids all have red hair and blue eyes and I’m. . .I hold
his eyes. Do you want to know? What will it change?
Everything. Yes. Does it matter? He calls me two days later
from a bus on the way to Lowell, the baby has a diaper rash.
I talk him through the way to treat it. The mother’s sleeping
she needs her rest. It’s been a year now, well child checks,
a few colds, a fever. He always brings the child. Now
the woman’s pregnant. Another red head? It doesn’t matter
the love is in him. Who looks at hate.
Pediatrician Kelley White worked in inner city Philadelphia and now works in rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in journals including Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her most recent books are TOXIC ENVIRONMENT (Boston Poet Press) and TWO BIRDS IN FLAME (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.