Here’s how today’s writing practice went: I wrote a poem, or rather, a poem started to pour out of me, and I caught it and splashed around in it for several hours. (How lucky am I, how privileged, to have time to do this?) Then I sat down to post the poem here but lost courage, so wrote a long blog-post to precede and explain the poem. Then, through the act of writing the explanation, I rediscovered my courage and realized I should just let the poem speak for itself. Of course. So here’s the poem… no explanations. (I think this is progress, I’ll take it.)
What Is Wrong With Me: Sickness As Symptom
Our bodies manifest the pain
our souls cannot express.
When my son was an infant
I became engorged
when I couldn’t express
my breast milk, turning my
once soft skin into stretched
stone that hurt when touched.
Back then my only cure
was ice and weeping
with agonized longing
to be home nursing.
was a one-day outlet
that made me miss more
the antidote I craved,
which was to breastfeed
longer than six weeks.
My latest maternal pain
also fills me with rocks;
if I had a pump this time
I’d use it. Instead, my body
manufactures new outlets.
The pain moves out
while I’m in motion:
the herniated disc,
the blade-divided heart,
both muted by distraction.
Only when I stand still
do pain’s pincers seize
my lower back, clamp
the spot where my neck
meets my shoulder,
rip my meal back out
through my gasping mouth.
The miracle is: my soul will
be able to absorb my son’s death,
just not all at once. My breasts
had one day to dry up, don armor,
and get back to a job they didn’t want.
What lies beneath them, my enlarged
heart, is a damaged muscle; she won’t
work well against her will, even
pumping double-time she can’t fill,
then empty in so great a hurry.
I’ve let in the needle, but speeding
the plunger would kill me. Sometimes
the wall holds me while I catch my breath.
I’ve been delicately making my way,
one memory at a time, trying to digest
all the moments that made this outcome,
chewing each misstep mindfully,
remembering to breathe between bites,
so the glass is smooth when it goes down,
so I can forgive each choice I made.
So I can make his memory a blessing.
Sometimes I forget to pace myself,
and everything rushes in at once,
all the knowledge that made Eve
sorry she was naked, sickened
by the bitter worms in every bite.
My body rejects the speeding influx
forcefully enough to scare me.
For every ache and itch I’ve had,
my soul has an explanation:
My stiff neck asks how it can ever
turn easily to face this full-on.
It orders me to better manage
my peripheral vision, which plays
tricks now if I’m not watchful.
I’ve been crawling out of my skin
since I heard the news, too,
wishing to be out of this body
before the full brunt bears down.
No wonder I tear tiny wounds,
scratching at the backs of my hands.
Yet pained or not, here I am;
the six weeks this body fed my son
were the only ones I will ever get;
and the lifetime I have left in this body
will be all the time I’ll ever get
to miss him in every cell of my being,
and for that alone I must cherish it.
To satisfy my worried wife,
and to keep the will to live this life,
I smooth on the creams, take
the medicines, see the doctors,
even though I know there is
nothing in me they can fix.
What can a stranger do to treat
the wind-rush of pain I breathe in
upon waking? When my heart expands
until the membranes near rupture,
it’s up to me to let air out of the valve
by breathing in. Then out. All day.
I do the yoga (thank God and Adriene for the yoga).
I write – my own prescriptions and this poem. I pray
and wish I knew You could hear me,
but give thanks I don’t know You can’t.
I cry to release more steam,
I enjoy each taste my tongue chooses,
I let the open sky touch my face,
I take joyful kisses from my dog
and watch my cat discover sunshine.
I cheerlead all the warriors
in my circle and in the world.
I laugh at comedy and read
universal stories of suffering
so I am less alone. I love as a verb
the dear ones still here on Earth.
Including, most challengingly, myself.
I look at lists my son was ordered
by his sponsor to write of his fears:
“That God is a lie I tell myself,
that I will die without doing anything
I hoped to get done.”
I resolve to write a list of hopes instead,
just as soon as I feel ready.