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Oh Danny

for Daniel C. Roper, IV,
September 9, 1995 - December 4, 1995

by Janice Roper, 1/4/96

reprinted with permission

One month ago today you died and
as your tiny body began to stiffen
my love for you froze. Tissues were
sliced from your body, your brain, for research.
"Now I lay me down to sleep . . ."

God did not allow your small life
to blossom and know
the smell of a winter fire, the blood thrill
of sky diving, the ecstasy of new love, the warm
comfort of home, marriage, friends, family,
everything we feel in life
yet take for granted.

The doctors placed you
in a refrigerator like lunch meat
so we could have more time to plan
your funeral. Five days.

Like fingers each piece falls
into place. We had a choice
of three infant caskets, two
looked like cement blocks that encase
toxic waste, top/bottom
to be placed together, like hands
in prayer, a custom-made comforter
spills over the edges
of the bottom half. The third looked
like a miniature adult casket in cheap
fiberglass instead of mahogany.
There were no other choices.
We picked three. Your Dad's
fists clenched, he went
out into the hallway
to cry.

More details, a book that looked
like a baby book but was a baby's death
book. OK .
Matching thank-you notes
OK
Music at the wake. Prayer cards, laminated.
OK
The funeral director asked
if we wanted a lock of your hair. Shocked
I thought of your baby head with
strands of soft rusty-colored brush
about a centimeter long.
A lock?
More like shavings from my legs, yet so much more
delicate. Almost translucent.
OK
Now get an outfit with a hat
to cover the autopsy probing
the soft spot into your brain. Long sleeves
and high neck to cover other
cuts.
They will make you beautiful
again. Makeup to cover
your blue lips. Close your vacant eyes.

Dad and I went to four stores. I found myself
looking at the next size up, out of habit.
We bought a sleeper
so you would be comfortable. White
so you would look like an angel.
A bonnet and booties to bury our baby in.

I wanted to scream from a mountaintop, tell the world
"My beautiful, smart, happy baby is dead!"
Pass along the outrage, call to my empty arms.
Instead, I put your picture in the Washington Post
looking for the proper entrance, following
a security guard to the Death News Reporter
who said you haven't done anything in your life. He directed
us to the Classified Advertising section where for $379
we could bleed the pain of losing you to
their circulation of 840,232.

Oh Danny, why?
You were too perfect.
A son
to complement our daughter.
A son
To carry on the family name.
A son
with the largest crystal blue eyes
I have ever seen. So handsome, attracting embraces
A son
with an important future spun from my brain while
singing you a lullaby
athletic prowess I foresaw
while you kicked in your diaper.
Intelligence I knew
when you looked me in the eye.
If I could have you back I would
bear my chest to hold you and feel
your breathing. I would
place my nose into your neck
to inhale your essence.
You would be warm again.
We would coo in conversation again.
I would rub your pink soft skin
with baby lotion again. You would smile at me.
Oh Danny.

This stiff baby in a casket is not you.
That creamy artificial color is not you.
Wake up, wake up, wake up!
God is a fist that beats me.
God is a nuclear explosion in my veins
My heart is ground zero.
Take me with you.
I know now why some people tear
their clothes and hair and flesh in grief
I know now why spouses often die
soon after the other.
I am walking that dark tunnel
filled with icy screams and cruel viruses
eating away at my insides. My eyes and nose
are running. My hands and face are cold.
I am coughing, blind and forever stumbling
after your spirit.

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