by Isabella Gross

                                 for Mom

A Nurse Teaches My Parents How to Inject Water into a Plastic Ball as I Watch from the Couch  I don’t remember the exact moment that my mother became a dart board but I remember the day that dad had to start practicing for the other days when mom’s body was too numb to take steady aim. Left hip, right arm, right hip, left arm. MS roulette.    Mom’s Daily Affirmation  Doctors care far too much about gluten and not enough about nerve.    Our Set of Monarch Charm Bracelets  Butterflies’ symmetrical stained-glass wings are said to represent the brain. My mom is like a butterfly because her thoughts float up and left and nowhere at the same time. Because she can be found among the Black-Eyed Susans. Because when it rains, she folds herself up into a thin line.    An Observation  Butterflies care far too much about getting wet and not enough about drying off.     We Were Watching the Posh Frock Shop & they were fitting a wedding dress for a girl gone blind by Arthritis & ever since mom’s been collecting autoimmune diseases like Pokémon cards she’s been doing a lot of Googling well shit & I stopped asking questions & reshuffle the deck for the Power Up cards & add Blindness to the stack with Twisted Fingers & Dizziness & Chronic Pain & Brain Lesions & Nobody Asked, But I’ve Been Thinking About  in the years following Aunt Cath’s double mastectomy, we should have been content in worrying about cancer. It takes one Google search to know that breast cancer kills 42,690 Americans every year. It has a thousand and one genetic counselors and twice as many screenings and tests and urine samples. Once every year, my high school football team bursts onto Thirlby Field in baby pink jerseys with “Grandma” and “Aunt Nancy” across their shoulder blades. When a woman dies of breast cancer, we say she died of breast cancer. We say she fought bravely. We say her family was by her side. When a woman survives breast cancer, we say she was strong, she was in God’s favor, she won.   When my mom dies from Multiple Sclerosis, they will say she died. They will say her body gave up. They will say she left three children, two dogs, and a broken husband behind. Every time I wear my monarch bracelet, they say pretty bracelet, and I say it’s for my mom, and they don’t say anything because she must like butterflies. Multiple Sclerosis has seven doctors who tell her she’s imagining things, that she can’t have pain where there isn’t a wound. Multiple Sclerosis has a thousand and one ways to screen and test and urinate for everything except Multiple Sclerosis. It takes one Google search and ten articles to know that my mom has an expiration date like a banana, that we will watch her get more spotted and browner until she starts attracting flies. So many times I have locked my fingers together and asked, God, can you win a battle against an opponent who never loses?    In My House  we collect garage sale fish knickknacks, half-full notebooks, and used needles — Mom fills it with hand-me-down dressers & crafts antique bed frames into benches. She believes in a second life for ruined things.

back to University & College Poetry Prizes