Richmond, United States
Poet’s statement: I can’t remember if the TV show Ben Casey began or ended with the symbols for man, woman, birth, death, and infinity, but endings and beginnings intertwine in my heart, and depth perception comes from overlapping images. Here’s a poem overlapping birth and death. Toads and babies. Love and fear. My son really had a hog-nosed snake, and it alternately hissed like a cobra and played dead.
Generations are dropping away
My son once had a snake
swallow toads. He filmed it
like a father films childbirth:
Dilating mouth, peristalsis
to snake pseudocyeisis.
hospitals, birthing a post-war
sleep or suckled propped
kept from medicated mothers
As death descends we hope for hospice,
for ending. Backward birth: the snake’s
cranking up hospital beds. Offering sponge
opium dreams for our loved ones
recalling all they gave us, which was as much
which is both away and more near
HELEN MONTAGUE FOSTER, MD, is a psychiatrist with a psychotherapy practice. She is a clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University, and her poems have appeared in JAMA, The Pharos, Citizen Jane, and Rattle. She is simultaneously revising two novels: A year of seeing lights and Narcissistic injuries.