This poem is part of a sequence entitled “Malpais”–about my illness, surgery, and sojourn in the Beth Israel Hospital over 35 years ago. I only started writing about it in its entirety earlier this year.
by Miriam Sagan
my name is on my wrist
so it has come to this
there’s screaming down the hall
but why I can’t recall
they say the screamer is me
but this is hard to see
It appeared in Camel Saloon today–check the rest out…
The foot goes through the ground’s false ground.
The earth is not a floor but a land. The hornets’
nest is the universe a moment before everything—
its potential is in its opening out. My mother
is only seven, looking for blackberries
on her grandmother’s farm when the world begins
in her legs, the nerves alive and suddenly singing fire.
How many times is she bitten? Each bite is a star
if a star is a place where the void is bothered by
a particularly difficult question. She runs
and the hornets follow. She has given them
to the light and they are dying to repay her.
PET/CT scan shows cancer
The radiotracer will set my organs to glowing
like messages written in invisible ink.
I need only lie very still to be converted
into a negative bible of light on dark.
The starched language of science—of
unstable sugars and their brief half-lives—
is the thinnest layer of semantic lead
shielding from the miraculous, from sensors
that detect the faintest afterthought of matter.
As in poetry and the Eucharist,
things are substituted for other things,
high energy positrons, zeros and ones
at last transfigured into the flesh itself
and projected onto monitors where
the bones will shine like neon tubes.
And then comes the bad news
uttered like an apology for the frangible.
The words rise unbidden to the lips
as when the soft interior of the bread
is exposed and elevated:
this is my body, broken—
Adam McGee was raised in rural Delaware and now lives in Boston, where he is completing doctoral work at Harvard University. His poetry has been published in Potomac Review. He holds an A.M. in African and African American Studies from Harvard University, and an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School.
Curated by Devon Miller-Duggan.