The Night He Broke His Collarbone

The diaper commercials never show
all the waiting:

the outer room at the dentist or
the living room when he’s out late or

at his bedside, in the emergency room,
waiting to take the X-rays or hear the results.

Or now, standing outside in the driveway
in the dark, waiting for the ambulance.

My son is sitting in the front
passenger seat of my car,

trying not to move too much
or cry or throw up, and

I stand in the wedge of light
from the car’s open door.

Earlier tonight, when the sun was still low,
he hit a bump on the BMX track

and slammed into the ground
shoulder-first. He is not quite thirteen.

His friend had to borrow a cell phone
to call his father and ask him to drive over

and pick them up in his SUV.
At the time, it didn’t seem so serious.

The neighbors have come outside,
one already in her nightdress and robe,

wringing her hands. There is nothing left
to say. Mostly, it is quiet. Other cars drive past,

and at the end of the street, a city bus stops
to collect its passengers before grinding away again.

One night, on a school trip, there was an accident—
but it was twenty years ago and all I remember now

is filing off a bus in the dark, and seeing
a teenage boy laid out on his back

in a parking lot, in some unfamiliar state—
in another lifetime, it seems now.

But it is all called back by the faint sound of the siren
rising from the bottom of the hill,

eliciting a familiar sense of relief. The ambulance
pulls to a stop in front of us, and the back doors are opened

to reveal its inner workings: the raised white cot,
the long gray bench, a series of cupboards, and then

the confident, efficient machine of the paramedics
emerging with their clipboards and backboard

and gloves and stethoscope,
and the pair of silver scissors they’ll use

to cut his shirt off his body, deftly,
like magicians performing a deceptively complex trick,

and in that moment I almost expect to see rising smoke
and a flurry of milk-white doves

as they set aside the glittering mirror of the scissors
and whisk back the colored cloth.

Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens and two chapbooks. Her third chapbook, In the Chair Museum, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2013. Browning’s fiction, poetry, essays, and articles have previously appeared in a variety of publications including Queen’s Quarterly, 42opus, Blood Orange Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, Heron Tree, The Literary Bohemian, and Corium, as well as on a broadside from Broadsided Press, on postcards from the program Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf, and in several anthologies. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review. Her personal website is located at

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