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The decision not to have a third child,
made so soon after the birth of our second,
launched us out into a dark abyss.

We were two hostages surprised by sudden liberty,
two divers strangling on twisted air lines;
the death awaiting us was not our own.

From that imagined loss appeared a small ghost
who flickered like an ultrasound and stayed
a moment too long to leave us unmoved.

We stood with trembling hands, longing
to touch you, while your two siblings
capered round our twilit garden.

O you, O you, an owl cried.
What shall become of us,
the parents who sloughed you off?

A strange, unspoken grief visits us at night,
as if we’d been given the chance
to save a single life—and flinched.

How is it possible to regret almost everything,
as the tiny clothes are given away
and the plush lares and penates taken from the crib?

Who were you, child? You were to be ours,
and you were perfect. Your loss is forever,
or at least as long as your mother’s life.

The moon face in the Moses basket was yours.
But I do not deserve to miss or mourn you;
I am not your mother after all.

—Margaret Bethray

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