Broken Water Main

The utility crew’s equipment beep-beeped
up our pitch-black cul-de-sac at 1, 2,
and 3 am. It was cold, and I felt bad

for the men working and worse for myself
as the jackhammer made our waterless house
shudder. I’d given up on trying to put down

the baby in her crib. In the dark,
I held her in one arm, open storybook
in the other. Foolish, I’d neglected

to fill up jugs of water and worried now
what we’d do come morning. There are,
I admit, bigger problems: septic tanks

on this hillside leaking into the supply,
the entire country’s aging pipes leaching
out copper, lead. This winter we’re cautioned

against rivers swollen with melting snow
lest children slip in. The flood watch
never expires. Everything’s washing

away. Last month we were surprised
by a massive water bill—my visiting dad
finally sleuthing out a silently running toilet.

This is how I like a father: proving something huge
can be fixed with a brisk jiggle of a handle.
All the farmland this winter is under water,

but still a house on 3rd caught fire. Well
of course: didn’t I grow up reading about
babies floating down streams in baskets, then

bushes bursting into flame? My dad changed
all our burnt-out bulbs while he was here. He updates
a spreadsheet of my mother’s medications

while she sits in a comfortable chair and has
good poison dripped steadily into her veins.
She holds a book of devotions. What’s to blame

for all this suffering? What can predict
how much awaits us down the road? The BPAs
in canned peas and beans, the aspartame

in her sweet peach tea? The cornfields
of her childhood farm seem so serene
until you calculate how many million gallons

glyphosate were keeping them green. Didn’t
I also grow up reading about babies
about to be cut in half, babies laid on altars

instead of in someone’s arms? And these
were the favorite sons. The broken
main wasn’t our fault, but the men flagged

the soggy snow in our front yard to chart
the network dripping underneath. They dug
and dug until they patched the problem. Now

morning breaks its cold light upon us. My
weary arms. I lay the baby down. Restored,
if just for the moment, water runs like prophecy

out from the spendthrift faucet’s mouth.

Bethany Schultz Hurst is the author of Miss Lost Nation, winner of the Anhinga Poetry Prize and finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2015 and in journals such as Ecotone, The Gettysburg Review, Gulf Coast, Narrative, and Ploughshares. A recent recipient of a literary arts fellowship through the Idaho Commission on the Arts, she is an associate professor at Idaho State University.