Jeannine Hall Gailey on the Moon
The Night I Get Diagnosed with MS Under a Blood Moon
A coyote appears on the road. This is not a metaphor.
There are scavengers. Smoke hangs in the air
and the red face of the moon is a cliché of bad omens.
All those poets and artists with TB, cancer, epilepsy,
their suffering on the page for us to read.
Their hours of remaining indoors, away from the sun,
kept for us on pages burnt hot by their pain.
I am lying on a very hot tube, my brain and spine
in the spotlight. Seeing spots. My plot is full of holes. Holy.
I have vomited every night for a month, the room spinning,
legs wobbly at every turn. Still, my roses bloom.
This is the way art can be – with three different IV bruises
on my arm, the nurses try to start another, and all
I can see is how the clouds are passing over the mountain
and the tall tips of pine trees from the window.
No sleep for days, continually poked and woken
by the the beeps of machines around me. Very few screams.
They don’t allow screaming anymore in hospitals.
Everyone is kept very quiet with drugs.
What’s the message in this diagnosis, a clear case of nerves,
the problem is what’s in your head, you poets,
always your agile way with words, your deft dodging
of the ordinary. Don’t trust the moon and the coyote at
the beginning of the poem, thinking they’ll lead you
further on a path to some easy, formal epiphany.
It’s all a mess – my brain, my veins, the whole shebang,
and what do I want to do? Write a story about what kind of moon
hangs overhead. It’s not easy. I could joke here but
I’m too used to collapsing. One by one our hopes
are taken from us, our eyesight or ability to walk or
digest food or breathe and so go our dreams of an easier life,
and art can only be so much of a consolation
on nights like this, so come sit by me in my hospital room,
the stale air and noisy machines and the night nurses
who try to give you the wrong medications again.
Take in that window view, the escape route from this moment,
that we are all at once temporary and eternal, the banging on the MRI
still reverberating inside my skull, as if these pictures will make any difference.
Winter, When Uncertainty
lingers like skin cells under nail beds,
like a set of notes left to decipher a coded message
you can no longer read. In a field of crows, the shriek
of a hawk sets them flying in all directions.
The fountain you might drop pennies in is ice-bound,
spikes of white in the sun. Both sides of the coin
seem identical, anyway, in the January light.
You’ve forgotten exactly where you left your glass slipper,
your moral center, your Good Book. Your fingers turn
blue in the cold as you breathe into a wool scarf,
waiting for a sign. If only there were swans instead of crows,
bright sun instead of the dull grey sky. If only the Wolf moon
could tell you where to go. Instead, you’re off on a trail of dead trees,
the outline of mountains where the sun is setting a grim line.
The Solar Eclipse Breaks the Curtain Between Dimensions
allowing Martians in Kentucky, lizard man attacks in Arizona.
Bats fly and birds fall silent. The light around us grows dimmer,
and we humans cannot help but place importance: numerologists
predict the end of the world. For me, it is one ending under the flare,
the path of one light ending. My eyes, brain, nerves tingling, unravel
the morning that mothers used to warn children to stay in bed.
We were told stories of people that went blind just watching the moon
the face of the sun. Old stories of destruction, warnings:
food cooked going bad, or planting flowers to make a brighter garden.
They say the light changes, a silver flashback. They say the temperature
drops and I just hope the promise of renascence or the fall of a king
will somehow bring us a better newsfeed, a better tomorrow
with a new moon, a new sun path to totality, where I will be reborn
in a new world, a new journey that won’t end in so much flare, flash,
the uncertain flicker of nerve and flesh returning to reliability.
I didn’t prepare for the late spring flower,
blooming under the moon, for the broomstick
or the familiar. I was brought to this kingdom
purely by accident. I don’t know how to play
by the rules. I was born a red-haired witch,
skin too delicate for wind or sun,
at home with seals, quail, foxes,
the rustle of leaves. Born in April,
I followed the seasons, learned the tricks
of tree roots. You can’t forget the spells
we did together, under autumn twilight.
We followed our own paths, didn’t
look when we leapt, didn’t write down
the lessons. I wrote down the story.
I keep dreaming of you. In the dreams,
you are young again. I am trying
to bring you back. The bubble of air
glistens around you, your blonde hair
in sunlight, your laughter. It is too late.
I could not be the true hero, despite
the long journey, the aid of animals, the sacrifice.
Here on the rocky cliff of a far country,
with the call of the sea, the moon. I wait
for my ending, without you, broken promises
sewn into memory, fading into song.
Strike a match for the dying spark,
for that moment of light in the darkness.
Take the splinter and seed; start your own magic.
Review of Unexplained Fevers at EIL
Review of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter at EIL
Review of Field Guide to the End of the World at EIL
Jeannine Hall Gailey in Women in History at EIL
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