Writing About (Your) Illness Is Like
watching the snow hurl itself onto
the cold concrete pavement,
a long lag between touchdown
and melting point, each flake
heavy as rock,
the fall accompanied by sound,
your body stuck in the inertia of lay.
“Mami,” I said, walking into your room,
the door etched in red like a fire was burning inside,
and found upon the bed the sheets swaddling
each limb, each cell having given up motion
with a stench, the layers
upon layers of baby cloth,
washcloths hanging to dry
unfolding their rancid
smell into the space
where your breath
is tied to the glance
in the same direction.
And when I saw the body of my mother’s
mother dying, I called you, “Mami,”
roped into the place
like a flower cut on the edge of music,
your moans, the cries “help” or “I’m cold”
as if this illness that pilfered your little bones
might retreat in tidal sway
splitting the body open,
unravelling what no possible warning
could have prevented,
that explosion of burgundy in the brain,
as if a door opened into a fire,
the skin paralyzed in goosebumps,
flaking despite all the moisturizing.
But then this shapeshifter room
kept you hostage,
trapped in your memories
that returned over and over
like a meat patty in frying oil,
gliding along the scaffolding of
and I walked out, still whispering your name,
knowing that life is nothing but the distance
between home and cradle,
this cradle, the grave,
spilling hurt every each way.
Falling into the Quiet, She Churns
after Kitra Cahana’s Still Man
“At my age,” my grandmother used to say,
“I am cinched by the certainty
that everything and everyone
is always already in motion,”
and I think of that sweet conviction
holding it tightly into knots on her tongue
this moment, as I sit
by her hospital bed,
hovering my palm over her lips
for reassurance that her breath
still flies swiftly like ancient bees.
The stroke churns her memory
into ambiguous fragments—
the war like a river spilling into
the young meadow,
the Russian’s cold gun
barrel lingering across her thigh—
& in a while, takes away all her words,
so in his tight bed, she looks unraveled
like a newborn,
a young moth whose weak wings
shake inchoate with the new air.
Tethered by catheters and tubes,
my grandmother dreams about all history,
the depth and the squeals,
the black bulk, the nearness,
the toppled boats,
her baby boy drowning in a barrel,
the yard wide like a ghost’s mouth
years before I became me,
all the village drinking in the last minutes,
the sun sinking to the bottom of that barrel
next to my grandmother’s stilled heart.
When I fix her pillow or pull up
a limp corner of her blanket,
I almost hear her breath sound,
as if to say, “I’m all right,”
& despite my pain,
this world, full of hurt as it is,
unfolds clearly before my eyes,
like a clean sheet hung across a window,
its silence sealing the room gray.
This illness spreads over her body slowly,
closing down every capillary intent,
the pain, the broken minutes,
but I know that all drama,
all grief and death and strain
mean something strong enough
to make it hard to let go.
Yes, you are still singing to me
into this new year of long silences
and many slept hours,
first in the bungalow by the sea,
next in this terrible room,
where doctors’ sneer and rhinoceros drift by.
You should have warned me that the walls
would be so white,
all the walls humming,
the window blind,
growing darkness in Petri dishes.
Minutes waste away their percussive music,
and I am wide awake, willing sad birds
into the mud sky, outside, where things still
Whisper to me my prayers,
make my fists listen,
the leaning of time into walls like tall
the tingling smell
a nurse’s white gloved fingers fumbling
with a catheter strip.
I see the sorrow hanging over your face—
an ugly moment.
Why are you here?
Roxana L. Cazan is an Assistant Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Saint Francis University, PA, where she teaches world and postcolonial literature and creative writing. Most recently, her poems appeared in Connecticut River Review, Construction Magazine, Cold Creek Review, The Healing Muse, Adanna Literary Journal, Watershed Review, Allegro Poetry, the Peeking Cat Anthology, and others. She is the author of a poetry book, The Accident of Birth (Main Street Rag, 2017).