©2019 Pericles at Play. Homepage paintings by Annabel Dover

The Rash

By Katie Hartsock

 

Like a criminal it had its reasons
and eluded understanding
for far too long. Antibiotics, and a dairy 

 

and soy intolerance, made the baby’s stool

so frequent and acidic it burned his flesh

just the same as flames would have burned. 

 

The doctor used words like corrosive and caustic.

Bent over him weeping, I thought we made
a scene somehow left out of the Inferno

 

the man whose mid-life crisis knocked him down

to hell’s own gastric juices, and his guide—
a poet from two thousand Roman years 

 

ago, whose tomb Italian teenagers still
get arrested for breaking into, to get it on—

descend a hill tapestried with fire 

 

to a field like a blistered hide, where hiss
the bile ponds and their run-off streams of scum

that excoriate whatever they touch. Now 

 

they see me, wilted over the changing table
at the mouth of my fountainless cave, my grief

a record skipping beneath its needle: 

 

as soon as I get a new diaper on, the child shits
and shrieks again. And clear-complexioned goblins

see to it that my diaper stash and all the stuff 

 

I marshal to protect his skin—Maalox, Calmoseptine,

aloe vera and Vaseline, topped with corn starch—

remain eternally replenished. Dante asks, 

 

“Oh mother, with your birdnest hair and crooked

back, what have you done to earn your place
in these . . .” And then he still talks for a while. 

 

They wait for my reply, the red depths
of my monologue. While they watch me fold

the diaper, the wickedly necessary diaper, 

 

I speak, briefly, about tenderness. 

Image:

Pato Bosich 

Pythia crossing the Styx

2018 

Oil paint, silver leaf, adhesive, on printed paper

From the series 'The Dying Pythia' 

https://www.patobosich.com