The Twilight Sleep II by Alice Tomlinson

We bring them in, bursting
with promise, sweet in sherbet-coloured
nighties, bright spring flowers
picked during a gale. We smooth

wild hair and swaddle pretty heads
in bales of soft protective candy floss,
toothsome but still impossibly
tender. We tether swiftly

at the wrist, after the doctor
was once struck full in the face
by a loose fist we hadn’t locked down
fast enough. Processed and primed,

we slot each one into a berth,
submerged in ladylike sedation,
and we start the clock. In theory,
what comes next should be forever

evanescent. Sometimes though,
they float up to the surface, try in vain
to make eye-contact, saying silently
where am I, I’m alone, I’m dying, I’m afraid,

and once, one of them caught
my eye and looked at me directly
as she said, with utmost clarity,
I will remember this.