by Kelley White

There is an art of confronting
a family with child abuse, to bend
sincerely to the child and to keep
the level of concerned sincerity
in your eyes as you face the parent

When I see a burn like this (in the shape of an iron,
            complete with steam holes)
When I see bruises (in the shape of a hand)
When I see this type of fracture (spiral humerus)
This type of bleeding (anal tear)

I have to be concerned
            for the safety of the child
I have to be concerned for safety
I have to be concerned for the child
I have to be concerned

and they weep with me
and wait quietly for the treatment
the hospital admission
the call to social service

IMAGE: No. 121 (Woodblock print, 2002) by Funasaka Yoshisuke.

PUBLICATION HISTORY: “Art” previously appeared in Mad Poets Review, the anthology When I Was A Child (PoetWorks Press), and the chapbook Against Medical Advice (Puddinghouse Publications).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I returned to Philadelphia in 2018 after a decade in my home state, New Hampshire, and now find myself in the same exam rooms that I occupied at the beginning of my pediatric career. Looking around those walls brings back memories, almost ghosts it sometimes seems, of former patients and their families. This piece is a sort of “how to do” description of one of the toughest aspects of my work. COVID has challenged families in unexpected ways; we fear increases in domestic violence and child abuse. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to report any cases recently. Unfortunately, we may not be seeing the children most at risk, as they do not venture outside of home to schools or pediatric offices for “well child care.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner-city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle, and JAMA. Her recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.