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Jim Daniels

Half Days

My daughter, thirteen, pale shred of herself,
fought an unidentified infection in her spine
as it softened her discs into disappearance.

I’d unread that story if she were young and still
listened to lullabies. After she got discharged,
I set an alarm for two a.m. each night to shoot

antibiotics into her port while she slept,
her limp arm resting in my hand. Her return
to school: half days—follow my dotted line

smearing across months of sleepless breadcrumbs—
at noon I idled high, anxious in the school driveway
rattling off the latest test results in the zero gravity

of fear. She startled me with the brittle thunk
of the car door slam, then snapped at me for staring
at her friends as they strolled across the street

to the cafeteria, creeping them out, she said,
embarrassed by illness like hard acne
or a blooming hickey, wrong music

or flakey hair, or the tacky middle-school
jumper she no longer had to wear.
I was there to drive her to therapy.

They were teaching her to walk upright
again—forget stroll. My eyes clouded
with the toxic erasures of her MRI.

Was I staring at each teenager popping
the perfect gum of their bright young lives?
I’d have circled her bony wrists

with my tremble if she’d let me.
I shifted into drive. In the untranslatable
silence we shared, our breath in sync,

I pulled away, neither of us waving
to anyone.

Jim Daniels’ latest poetry collection, The Human Engine at Dawn, was published in December by Wolfson Press. The cover photo features his grandfather working on an engine at Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit. Forthcoming collections include The Luck of the Fall, fiction, Michigan State University Press, to be published later this year, and Comment Card, a chapbook of poems, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2024. A native of Detroit, he lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in the Alma College low-residency MFA program.


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