The Baby in the Box

They picked him up because they couldn’t not,

         an infant in a cardboard box,

his mother newly dead on the makeshift ward. 

         Besides, he’d tested negative. 

A dozen nurses, pausing on their rounds,

         would hold and feed him, stroke his head,

and when he cried at night sing him to sleep. 

         So he survived, a son of the ward,

until the symptoms showed. They cared for him

         in shifts while their young fevers grew,

and when they vomited and bled were sent

         to isolated beds. They sank

into raging sleep like ocean wrecks too deep

         for all but men in diving suits

to reach, never to be stroked again by human

         skin or held as their bodies failed. 

Eleven were carried out in leakproof bags, 

         doctors and nurses lining the road.

The twelfth woke up, not knowing how, and asked 

         about the boy, if he had lived. 

from Night Chaser, David Robert Books, 2020

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