The Mummy Child

It is the hand that haunts me.

It is the dark, dry, withered hand
that clenches around my finger.

It is the fragile, parchment-skinned hand
that paws at my palm.

It is the desperate, hungry, dying hand
that scrabbles after food I do not have.

We were not allowed to share our own food.
Even if it went to waste. Rules, you know.

It is the hand that haunts me, the hand of the child I could not save, and not, oddly, the whole child, though that memory too is perfectly clear.

The little mummy child lay in the hole,
as dessicated as the sand itself,
sharp bones poking at the black skin.
There was no cloth for wrappings.

Each month, the same dream returns: I remember those long weeks in Africa that shriveled the hope in my heart like a seed left in the pitiless desert sun. I remember the hand, so tiny and frail, yet so terribly strong. I hear again the strange creaking cry, like the sound of old leather bending. The flesh has drawn back from the small hard nails, which claw across my belly and leave me bleeding.

It is the hand that haunts me, scooping the life out of me, wringing me out too dry even for tears.

So no,
I don't think I'm expecting.
I have no expectations at all.

—Elizabeth Barrette