The neighbors called him “Thirteen,”
as though his birth order should trump
the name his mother whispered
as she kissed his scraped knees.
The schoolchildren called him “Ghost Boy”
when they heard he wore a hand-me-down white gown
and squirmed in Death’s arms
on the morning of his Christening.
Death called him “my godson, the doctor”
to watch his face heat like flames
and crumple at the reminder
that he saved no one
but those Death already knew would live.
Death assumed he wanted more gold
than his father’s fingers had ever known,
but Death never asked
if it was worth never-ending saddle sores
to reach people withered and still
or hunched and screaming
against goose-feather pillows.
Death never asked
if their pleas echoed in his horse’s canter
or the hiss of a candle burning too low.
if he woke to regiments of the dead
at his bed’s end,
all of them remembering
how that slip of black fabric
waited at their feet for their last breath.
The world called the most accurate oracle
they wished they could know,
a miracle born with healer’s hands,
but when he searched his herb-stained hands,
he only ever saw Death.
Megan Hippler is a writer and poet from West Virginia who currently lives in Australia. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Seamwork magazine, The Poetry of Yoga, Vol. 2, Re/Coded, and Modern Loss.
Illustration by Heinrich Lefler.