Neonatology / Kindergarten


We call him Hugo Apollo

a science fictional name

perfect for the first space

he inhabits after birth,

a place out of time

where two-pound babies

held close in their capsules

sleep in the beep and

whoosh of machines.

Wires and tubes tendril around him

sliding chemicals into his scalp

and oxygen into his lungs.

Electrodes stick to his chest

as though Houston

is listening from afar

ready to radio in

with a lullaby

at the slightest blip.

A waning crescent glows

outside the hospital window

but his outer space begins

eight inches from his face

and the moon will have to wait.


mosquito-kissed, bruise-spotted

well-loved by the sun

he’s shirtless, shoeless

scab-picked knees

golden hair dreading

sweat itching his neck

school says he should practice

wearing a mask before September

though he’s not worn undies since March

swamp-sploshing, dam-building

digging up the yard

he’s muddy, bloody

hollering in the woods

peeing in the bushes

stomping water through the house

school says he should practice

social distancing before September

though he lost all his friends in March

independent and fermented

ever more himself

he’s memorizing atlases

building barometers

frantic dancing

so pedantic

school says they’re excited

to welcome him in September

though he’s a different kid since March

Holly Painter, author's headshot

Holly Painter lives with her wife and two children in Vermont, where she teaches at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Excerpts from a Natural History (Titus, 2015), and My Pet Sounds Off: Translating the Beach Boys (Finishing Line, 2020). Her next poetry collection, At last we listen closely: cryptic crossword poems, will be published in 2021. She is currently working on an interview and photography project about obsolete jobs.