How The World Works

You think you know the way the world works
but you don’t. You don’t know the first thing
about it, because nothing in thirty years
has prepared you for the couple across from you
in the waiting room of this hospital,
or the way they look at the small child in the arms
of the woman beside you. No, this is not
the look of hatred or hunger, although you think
it might be hunger with these two, this is the look
of pure love, the purest love you have ever seen,
the look you imagine the Magi had staring
at Christ in the manger, and nothing
in your background has taught you to deal with this.

So let me help. Look at the man, at his bruised hands,
the way they seem too big for his wrists,
the way they move uncomfortably over
the slit-tears of his jeans at the knees.
Look at this woman and her dry skin, at the way
her denim skirt hangs limp at her calves, like a hope
that’s just been washed flat. And listen to them.
Listen to the slow, thick way he speaks,
the way he rounds the word four into a wish
when he says, “We’ve been trying four years
to get pregnant and finally done it,”
and understand his pride when he rubs her belly
above the skirt, and hers when she smacks his hand
lightly and tells him to shush. Listening will help
when a moment later he tells you honestly,
like a best friend, that all they need is one more test,
one more confirmation. It will help when they are called
back into the room, and when they walk out
a few moments later leaning on each other
like the survivors of a wreck. It will help you hear
the tender way he whispers to her over and over,
I’m sorry, and notice how he holds her hand
like the rarest flower in the world. All this will help
when it becomes your turn to hear your own results,
to sense something inexplicable has turned
suddenly wrong and this is not what you planned
or signed on for. And you’ll be right about that.
But what you signed on for is not how the world works.