Taking Chances

The lab in the hospital is drawing
my wife’s blood after our visit with the OB
to make sure our baby’s chromosomes
made the right number of copies,
               a genetics test,
so I sit down outside in the fresh air to distract
myself by watching the other visitors and patients—

he just lost his index finger to a table saw,
she came to get drugs without stealing,
that couple waits on the husband's biopsy results.

Everyone wanders through the same transparent sliding doors
syncopating with the puffs of smoke
oozing from the mouths of stressed-out friends and family
in the smoking section just to my left.

Strobing red lights from an incoming ambulance light up
a smile splayed across the face of a new-born cancer survivor.
His whole family beaming with hope
and oblivious to any other story than their own,
and then I see a man my age and his wife
struggling to find oxygen in the moisture-thick air,
torn-up pieces of an ultrasound trickling from his left hand
to the stamped concrete like sand falling in an hourglass
               because it was a miscarriage
and not just excessive spotting.

My mind charges past genetics, saw blades, cancer, and ultrasounds
to my brother that I never met named Aaron.
Before there were blood tests like the one my wife is taking
for chromosomal abnormalities
               he had one called trisomy-13—gone 15 minutes after arrival—
he never had a chance.

My wife emerges from the lab
trying to get her Band-Aid
to stick in the crook of her elbow.
She doesn’t see me sulking
as I’m imagining how my dad felt
when his luck ran out--
forced to wait outside the delivery room
while my mom and Aaron
fought against a thermometer cracking fever.

Nothing is certain as my wife and I
head back to our car
because the results won’t be in for days,
but I crack a smile, my wife gives up
on the Band-Aid, and we stop to hug
before I open the passenger door for her.

About the Author:
Matthew Birdsall has been a little corny his whole life. He blames Ohio. In fact, his first word was “combine.” Almost a year old, driving with his mom and dad in an old, green Chevy Chevette, he looked into a cornfield, saw a large machine, and said, “combine.” Neither his mom nor his dad were too pleased that their son recognized farm machinery before he recognized them, but they were pleased with the number of syllables he’d used. Matt still tries to disappoint his parents, but now he uses words like “mother” and “father” to lay it on thick. See more at Almagamattor.