I am lying on Tanner’s table, needles in my abdomen and lower legs,
heat, and this poem, percolating up like a Yellowstone mud pot. Tanner’s hands,
not ethereal airy hands, not hands of fire and electricity, not hands of water
but hands of clay are cradling my cranium, upcurled fingers easing my skull
off its axis where it has been jammed ever since my diagnosis.
I am lying on the operating table glimpsing the myriad scalpels lined up
precisely in their paper lined trays. The room feels crowded although
I don’t remember seeing the neurosurgeons or nurses. My mother, father,
even Esperanza are there, and when I wake up, I feel as if I have been riding her
bareback for many hours. My thighs are quivering with exhaustion.
I am lying in my bed on the 7th floor of Swedish Hospital, the neurology floor
for brain surgery patients and those suffering from brain trauma and stroke. I hear
my neighbors moan and cry out at night, searching for a compass, an orientation,
a location on which to assemble their shards. If I get up to pee without calling the nurses,
the bed alarm goes off and the nurses come running to scold me.
I am lying on the narrow radiation table, my face and head clamped down with a custom-fit
lime green plastic mesh mask which now hangs in the dining room awaiting artistic inspiration.
(Shall I weave feathers and twigs in the mesh and hang it in a tree? A bird brain nest?)
The bulk of the radiation machine lies in back of me and honestly, I never took a good look at it
except to register its Star Wars space age $7 million gravitas.
I am lying immobilized as machine rotates around my head, locks into position and blasts
my blastoma with a starburst of cerulean blue orbs which I later paint, and which my doctor
explains as the Cherenkov radiation effect. The sassy radiation therapists play Jimi singing
“There must be some kinda way out of here”; Mick and Merry Clayton wailing
“Rape, murder…it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away”; and Bill consoling “lean on me…”
I am lying on Esperanza’s bare back at the highest point of our land, chamisa and gorse-filled
mini dunes, the Great Sand Dunes in the distance. I am hoping she stands still and doesn’t bolt
or shy so I can meld my spine into hers, melt the back of my head to her rump, gaze up
at the endless blue of sky, feel her subtle shifts of weight, her steady breathing,
tune myself to the beat of her large and peaceful heart.
I am lying strapped to the gurney in the ambulance as it weaves and jolts and veers
its way over La Veta Pass in a drenching rain storm, and then up I-25, shifting lanes,
slamming on the brakes, crawling through heavy traffic all the way to Denver,
me trying to hold onto my stomach, my wits, my courage, praying that
my guardian angels keep an eye out for Henry following four hours behind.
I am lying, sleepless and nauseated in our bed at the John Zay Guest House
listening to yet another helicopter land on top of Penrose Hospital, the rotors
chopping the stillness, the strobing lights ricocheting through the darkness.
Someone is on a flight for their life, their loved ones sick and wobbly with worry
as they bend over to pick up the shattered pieces and put them back together again.
I am lying cocooned in the hammock under the Russian olives, their crisscrossed
and thorny branches puzzling the sky. Esperanza and Stormy stand head to tail
on the other side of the fence; their eyes are closed but the steady swishing
of their tails keeps the flies from landing or biting. My eyes close too.
I have no idea that next week I’ll be diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer.
I am lying in bed next to Henry, listening to the sounds of his sleep, feeling the warmth
of his hand entwined in my own. He knows I will wake him if his dream turns bad.
I know he will wake up if I need to talk, or cry, or be held. Neither of us knows exactly
where all this is going although it seems likely that I will pave the way. Meanwhile, I savor our chests
rising and falling, our hearts beating, the tides ebbing and flowing. We are both still alive.