About Not Writing

Tongue-tied, I stand before
Myself as inquisitor.
 
I loved to mark time
With a beat, with rhyme.
 
Time marked me with its thumb,
Slowed down the pendulum.
 
Slowed it down, or stopped:
Words were lopped, words dropped—
 
No use to devise
Reasons or alibis.
 
Now, strangely, I draw breath
Well past my ninetieth.
 
What’s begun is almost done,
Still I must brood upon
 
The much that I sought,
The little that I wrought,
 
Till time brings its own
Lockjaw of stone.
 

More by Naomi Replansky

The Weeping Sea Beast

Tentacled for food,
You range your underwater neighborhood.
 
To look, to like, to eat, to break your fast! 
Before you move an inch an hour is past,
 
Your prey is past, a swarm of scales, an eye,
A round fish eye, a rude unblinking eye.
 
You close on nothing; slowly you untwine
Your many arms and trail them through the brine.
 
Now sailors at the surface hear you cry,
And from those heights they cannot fathom why.
 
For there are agile creatures all around
Who dart like flames through this rich hunting ground
 
And others who lie still and gaping wide
And make no move; but armies come inside.
 

I Met My Solitude

I met my Solitude. We two stood glaring.
I had to tremble, meeting her face to face.
Then she saying, and I with bent head hearing:
“You sent me forth to exile and disgrace,
 
“Most faithful of your friends, then most forsaken,
Forgotten in breast, in bath, in books, in bed.
To someone else you gave the gifts I gave you,
And you embraced another in my stead.
 
“Though we meet now, it is not of your choosing.
I am not fooled. And I do not forgive.
I am less kind, but did you treat me kindly?
In armored peace from now on let us live.” 
 
So did my poor hurt Solitude accuse me.
Little was left of good between us two.
And I drew back: “How can we stay together,
You jealous of me, and I laid waste by you?
 
“By you, who used to be my good provider,
My secret nourisher, and mine alone.
The strength you taught me I must use against you,
And now with all my strength I wish you gone.” 
 
Then she, my enemy, and still my angel,
Said in that harsh voice that once was sweet:
“I will come back, and every time less handsome,
And I will look like Death when last we meet.” 
 

Night Prayer for Various Trades

Machinist in the pillow's grip,
Be clumsy and be blind
And let the gears spin free, and turn
No metal in your mind.
 
Long, long may the actress lie
In slumber like a stone,
The helpless words that rise from sleep
Be no words but her own.
 
Laborer, drift through a dark
Remote from clay and lime.
O do not tunnel through the night
In unpaid overtime.
 
You out-of-work, walk into sleep.
It will not ask to see
Your proof of skill or strength or youth
And shows its movies free.
 
And may the streetcleaner float down
A spotless avenue.
Who red-eyed wake at morning break
All have enough to do.
 
Enough to do. Now let the day
Its own accountings keep.
But may our dreams keep other time
Throughout our sprawling sleep.
 

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If the Heart Does Not Restart

As I try to wonder about a stroke, an embolism, a rupture, or pancreatic pathologies, sudden invasive virulence, instead I think Go to the store for Roundup. Then the French neighbor gardening in her silk blouse hints chemicals might take care of the grasses on our side, the ones choking the basil. But I say bittersweet or Japanese creeper on the fence, what’s the difference. She’s saying it again. “Sweet Autumn Clematis should be more vigorous than the large-flowered clematis hybrids.” And on the internet: “I know she fought with every ounce of strength.” Or, “She died peacefully at home.” An appropriate response to this: bullshit. She wrote so many books. She is writing so many books. All of these books undulate from her like swells, like the yellow liquid left in the tube after selling platelets. I’m not saying vampiric when I think of everything going wrong in the blood. Or the tubes carrying blood. Or blood keeps going where it shouldn’t in quantities the brain can’t handle. When he took a job counseling terminal patients, when he no longer had clients but patients, then he had the stroke. He stroked. Who knows how to respond to this? During surgeries, I watched the blood spinning through tubes, getting aerated, oxygenated, whipped up and sent back to the limbs. I wished there was less hard blue plastic, less crisscrossing of tubes and wires. My nightmares in recent years involve violating the sterile field. I touch my neck, then I touch the edge of the wound, and I am filled with shame but also fear because maybe now there’s nothing to be done since I’ve contaminated the chest cavity and the patient will most likely move on to infection, fever, death, but I won’t know because, one, I’ll wake up or, two, wakes up will stop mattering. Option three involves me trying to cry in the locker room bathroom but instead wanting a sandwich, not knowing the patient’s name anyway. I’m on the hunt here, following the vine to its root only to find it’s one vine among twelve and we’d better get the shovel or decide this is probably just wisteria that hasn’t bloomed yet. In a nightmare, I once vomited on a patient. I just missed the chest cavity. Awake, I really did drop many valuable things. One of the things given to me to hold was the heart itself. I never held a warm heart but sometimes wish I had. I think I would have cried more for a warm heart that refused to restart. The cold ones, nesting in sterile ice, never inspired hope of life. The real difference between a surgery that ends well and one that doesn’t is the way the body is closed. If the surgery is successful, then the patient’s heart restarts and the pressure comes up. A regular rhythm is achieved and we close each layer—heart, sternum, any little blood vessels, fat, each layer of dermis. If the heart does not restart, there is no careful sewing. A staple gun closes the skin but not the layers underneath. The sternum is still pulled closed with wires, but fewer and less neatly tied. I grab the incision’s edges, tug them together with one hand, and with the other, start the grating plastic click click click of the gun. The table is pulled away and the drapes peeled off the skin. We wipe away the blood and the betadine. We pull the blanket to the chin. I never stick around to see what happens next. Or I do and now I don’t know.