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Poetry: Mike Barthman

A Mid-Wife Nervous

Mike Barthman

before dinner, she’s impatient

about ice cream. dentures clunk

when she laughs—nearly chipped

at the Easter vigil during a yawn. so,

her teenage nephew doesn’t make jokes

in public, prays the teeth won’t


at times, she won’t find a bathroom.

others, we find the bathroom a mess.

she rifles the pantry—but this

is why she has a sister-in-law

who keeps her in line, who loves

her husband, who knows why

he brought his Big Sister


her laugh loosens cupboard

hinges, jiggles dishes, and settles

garbage seventy-four years

after a mid-wife Nervous

crossed Grandma’s knees,

trapped her Mid-canal.

she was delivered a child

as quiet as afterbirth.


skin papery and blue as nursery

wall pink. but she was not born

a retard.

she was made a retard

every time a mother

shortened grocery visits

with her Only daughter

because strangers look

funny and whisper behind

folded sheets of coupons.            

she was marooned

                        in a ward, where each visit

                        as twin nephews gripped

                        ten white nail beds and four

                        eyes clung to a rugless floor,

                        nurses assured, nobody

                        wants a creature incapable

of folding laundry.

her laughter is for that.

for staff and institutions, years

bunking beside schizophrenic

paranoia, catatonics, perverts.

she compensates for them with

second helpings, name-calling


can recognize tone despite vocabulary.

one night i drug myself home, a teenage

melodramatic mutant with tentacles of

angst—she held me and never worried why.

that morning I found her on the couch,

she was cradling Grandpa’s Photograph.


a Retard Can cry

with more honesty than a dictionary

and you never expect it and all you

can do is wrap your arms around her

until she wriggles to escape,

hold her until she laughs herself


in a fit, and moseys after her sixty-

two-year-old Baby Brother

who just lost his job to budget,

who will ask her to quit

laughing and she laughs.

tell her cut it out and she laughs.

will call old Little Brother

Turd Head.

call him Turd Head again,

slap his shoulder, bump

his hip, slap his shoulder


until He can feel again,

for an instant Mid-Way


and with one affectionate shove

send her duck hips waddling

for balance, squealing Oh Shit!

clutching the doorframe

in mid-fall hysterical—

filling everyone

with everything

every Sunday should before


toward her room in a gut-busted

humorous surrender, chanting


failing to repress her talent

to find absolutely nothing hilarious,

though she knows better after being

pinched plenty as Grandma’s

only girl.

then in the grunting silence

of her bedroom, with a serene

trem  ble while guiding a plastic needle

threaded with a vibrant length of yarn

into the grid of her fancy-work,

appear for a concentrated

tongue-biting instant,

Mid-Way Human.


All Rights Reserved to Mike Barthman

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