News Poem: ‘Dead Baby’

Dead Baby

 

There’s a dead baby in your yard

the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.

It was over by the fence.  It was naked. It was blue.

It was bloody placenta all over the ground

and red spots on the fence.  Red spots on the fence

led them over the top to the trail of blood

in the neighbor’s yard

to the back door

and into the room

of a 13 year old, the childless mother

of the dead baby in the yard next door.

I heard a cry late last night,

a neighbor reported,

Thought it was a cat or a bird

 

What did she do alone in that room?

Teddy bear stuffed in her mouth?

Her legs pumping the mantra of a child

giving birth all alone:  Get rid of it,

then wash up, no one will know

Did she rise up then

Get rid of it

and take the baby to the fence?

Go wash up, it’s gone now, no one will know

it’s over, we’re dying, wash up now,

it’s gone over the fence . . .

 

There’s a dead baby in your yard

the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.

It was over by the fence.

It was wrapped in slick papers

the Sunday supplement

multicolored  ink-stains

and bloody from the birth,

yellow rubber gloves flopped in a puddle,

man-sized gloves.  Playtex

what you use

to wash the whitewalls on tires

to strip furniture

to clean the oven

or to pull out a baby that doesn’t want to come

when you don’t know what you’re doing

so you reach in and pull harder

and the head comes out and it’s blue

and the cord’s wrapped around

and you don’t know what you’re doing

and you reach in and pull harder

and the yellow gloves pull harder

and you’re scared

and it’s blue and we’re dying,

so you reach for the Parade section

and roll the baby in it

and you don’t know what you’re doing

and you’re sorry

and you drop it over the fence

hand over head, like a kid mailing a letter

and you turn the gloves inside out,

drop them and run home before dark.

 

There’s a dead baby in your yard

the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.

It was over by the fence.

It was dressed in white lace

a christening gown

layers of white on white,

the baby had been washed,

the clothes had been pressed

it had all been prepared,

a small bonnet crocheted

a pearl ribbon woven through.

It was wrapped in a cover

a hand-knitted blanket,

the edges folded back,

the kind a grandmother would weave

the perfect baby, the kind a grandmother

would dream of

the son she’d never had,

the one she could spoil,

the one she deserved.

 

There’s a dead baby in your yard

the newsboy said when he knocked on the door.

It was over by the fence where the Granddaddy

leaned against it, a post to divide his property

from yours.  Don’t know nothing ’bout no fence,

the Granddaddy said.  So now she’s knocked up

and squalling out back,

serves her right for running around

serves her right for backtalking me.

The neighbor next door

was the one who was right

who heard late that night

the cat and the bird.

Take me to the fence,

the baby had begged them,

and when the newsboy arrived

he saw an alley cat out back

tugging at  some meat.  He heard

a single black bird

a cry in the wind.

He rushed to tell all of them

what all of them already knew.

There’s a dead baby in our yard

the newsboy says,

and something knocks at our door.

 

“Years ago I was haunted by a small news story I read in the Rocky Mountain News—about how a newsboy found a dead baby while delivering his papers.

Here I have tried to ease the  shocking nature of this event with something artful—by creating the arc of a detective story that can carry the reader with its questions —suggesting possible theories, imagined culprits, persons of interest—even the reader has something knocking at their door.   And it was important to include the newsboy in the repetitive line, because he literally delivers the  news and the repetition of the news strikes an alarm over and over like a tolling bell.

I am a Denver author of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.  I am a retired lawyer.  At the time I wrote this poem I was serving as a Denver County Judge.  It won a prize from the Denver Press Club.  Coincidentally, when I read this poem at the DAC event, the reporter who had filed the original story about the case was in attendance!” — Jacqueline St. Joan

 

The Colorado Independent‘s News-Stained Poetry Project features poems that are about the news, products of the news, responses to the news. “News stained” is meant as a badge of honor, a reference to the long tradition of the poet as witness. As Carolyn Forché wrote, politics can sometimes be seen as a “contaminant to serious literary work,” something to be avoided. But that way of thinking, she said, “gives the political realm too much and too little scope… It renders the personal too important and not important enough.” News developments, whether or not they are reported, shape our personal lives every day. We don’t often think in the moment about how that is happening and what it means. We should think more about it. Poets think about it. And we want to help encourage them to write more about it.

Please send submissions to tips@www.coloradoindependent.comsubject line “poem,” with a short bio and some mention of where and when the poem was written.

 

note: this poem was previously published in  The Denver Quarterly.

 

[Photo by Danielle Henry]

3 COMMENTS

  1. […] (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); “Years ago I was haunted by a small news story I read in the Rocky Mountain News—about how a newsboy found a dead baby while delivering his papers.Here I have tried to ease the  shocking nature of this event with something artful—by creating the arc of a detective story that can carry the reader with its questions —suggesting possible theories, imagined culprits, persons of interest—even the reader has something knocking at their door.   And it was important to include the newsboy in the repetitive line, because he literally delivers the  news and the repetition of the news strikes an alarm over and over like a tolling bell. Read full article […]

  2. What a stunning way to retell this, rename this, tragic story. Thank you, Jacqueline St. Joan…

  3. A narrative bloody with questions wrapped in fragments of fact and memory and dream, taking us on a newsboy’s route through tragedy. A tour-de-force of poetry and perspectives. Vintage St. Joan

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