It's the job.
You have to explain the scan,
you have to tell them outright,
as much as you wish
you could just show them the images
and then step back silently
with your eyes on the floor.
The attendings say it gets easier,
you'll start to learn the words
soft but still true.
So if the child asks:
Is it going to hurt?
you speak concisely
until you reach the bit about the analgesics
(of course you refer to "medicine")
where then you take your time, elaborating
assuring that the nurses will be gentle.
If she asks:
Can I still go to school?
you might pause for a moment
as you process your respect for her,
but then the question is an easy one
and your answer flows like milk.
If the child looks at you
with those impossible eyes
and asks: Am I going to die?
you uncap the will
to look right back at her,
outsourcing your answer
to the statistics, readying yourself
to sprint against the cracking dikes,
reciting the clinic's resume,
brandishing the poster cases,
the underdog victories, the hope
that pumps true inside your heart.
But then there is the child
who cuts straight to it:
What will happen to my parents if I die?
as though she already knows
the prognosis and is ready
to hammer out the will.
You ache to lie to her,
to clasp her to your chest
and insist "You will not die!"
voice pleading her to believe you
pleading for it to be true.
It's not that you don't know the answer,
answering with uncertainty is custom,
but rather it's that you can't even begin
to imagine it, what you might do
if your daughter died-
would you ever recover?
Could you ever make love in the same way,
swimming through weightless passion?
Could you walk through the house
where she took her first steps
without your temples clenching
in the haunting chimes of her laughter?
It's not a matter of medical opinion.
So what do you say?
Because you have to say something.
You could redirect, hurdle the question,
reiterate past successes,
tell her not to worry about that
it won't happen for a while even if it does.
Hell, you'd even do a magic trick
to distract her, maybe give her a lollipop.
Like the moments of your life
all the possible responses flash before you
but when you go to part your lips
all that scrapes its way out
is "I don't know."