“Sesame Street” by Mike Nichols


We were both born sick.
Hospital stays and needles
jammed into my skinny thighs
had made me well
by the time she arrived.
But her sick was worse.

 

Her years were spent in hospitals.
Odor of iodine, rubbing alcohol,
anticipated pain. Lab coats
made her shrink into herself.
Their wearers bearing needles
stabbing and stealing
or sneaking in unwanted gifts.

 

When she was home and not sick
the Sesame Street song
made us romp around and sing along.
“Sunny day, sweepin’ the clouds away.”

 

That day she is home
but she is sick.
Her face is tired and mad.
She is lying on the couch
sucking her finger. I know
that finger is fat and red.
It always looks like hurting feels.

 

Quiet – on my tippy-toes
I peek over the couch.
I drop to my hands. I giggle.
Carpet pushes up
between my fingers.
I sneak on hands and knees
around the couch
past the torn flap.
Tingles are in my tummy.
I peek over the cushion.
I do a silly face.

 

She looks through me,
above the fireplace
where painted ladies
(that I mustn’t touch)
stand under umbrellas.
Her eyes look through
the painted ladies too.

 

I quack. I stick my tongue out.
Her cheeks suck in around her finger.
I wobble my head at her.
I poke her. I shake her.
I grab her wrist and pull.
Her fat red finger pops out.

 

Now she can see me.
Now she is screaming.
I am in trouble. She-Is-Sick.
I only wanted her to play – with me.

 

If I could go back to that day
I’d wrap her hand with mine
and set them, soft,
upon the raised flower pattern
of that couch like crushed velvet
against our skin.

 

And silent, I’d memorize – her face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Nichols was born all in a rush just after midnight, with no assistance from doctor or midwife, under a waning Tennessee moon on a chill October night behind a partition at the back of a tar-paper shack in which his unwed mother had holed-up for a time. Mike won the 2014 Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. His fiction and poetry may be found at Underground Voices, Bewildering Stories, and Black Rock & Sage.