Michael S. Harper’s “Nightmare Begins Responsibility” traces the feelings and reflections of a father witnessing, through a glass partition, a team of medical personnel trying to save the life of his newborn son. The setting is a hospital, but the poem’s drama unfolds in the father’s mind as he reports what he sees and the distrust he feels toward the technicians, a distrust that is ultimately muted by understanding and resolution.
At the poem’s outset, the father feels imprisoned by the glass, shut off from his son, and helpless. The infant, is in a “tube-kept/ prison,” completely at the mercy of the medical team, as is the father. The poem’s first line focuses on the father’s anguish, connecting it to his external environment with a pun on “pane”: “I place these numbed wrists to the pane.” Able only to watch, the father is gripped by fear and distrust throughout the poem—Harper uses the words “distrusting” four times and “distrust” once to reinforce the father’s primary emotion. The father distrusts the hospital staff, fearing “what they will do in experiment”; he distrusts them because they are white, clad in white hospital garb and clad in the whiteness of their race, which contrasts with his own dark skin and that of his child.
The father’s anguish stems in part from conflicting feelings, the poem’s principal focus. Seeing the white technicians struggle to save his child, the father is...
(The entire section is 455 words.)