Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease

Erin Belieu - 1967-

Science in its tedium reveals
that each spirit we spirit

ganks a solid half hour from
our life spans.

Or so says my doctor, a watery,

Jesus-eyed man, and hard to suffer
with his well-intended scrips for yoga

and neti pots, notably stingy with the better

drugs, in situ here amongst the disinfected
toys dreadful in their plastic baskets.

Above his head, the flayed men of medical
illustration are nailed for something like

décor. The eyeball scheme is best,

with its wondrous Canal of Schlemm,
first favorite of all weirdly named

eponymous body parts. It’s just a splotch
of violet on the diagram, but without which

our aqueous humours would burst
their meshy dams and overflow. Tears,

idle tears…so sad, so fresh the days
that are no more…
is what I quote to him

as he thumps my back with his tiny
doctor’s’ tomahawk. But he’s used to me.

We have an understanding. What he
means to miser, I’ve come to spend

most lavishly. And I feel fortunate again,

to be historically shaky in the maths,
enough to avoid making an easy sum

of my truly happy hours, or nights curled 

sulfurous on my side, a priced-to-sell
shrimp boiling in anxious sleep.

If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time

to die. Better the privilege of booze
than the whim of one more shambolic

butcher shelling peasants in a wood,
our world’s long spree of Caesars

starting wars to pay their bills
in any given era’s Rome. Turns out,

Lord Alfred’s stomach did for him,
and he died thirsty, calling for more opium.

Free of the exam room now, I spot the same

tattered goldfish in his smeary bowl
beside the door where he’s glugged along

for years, a mostly failed distraction

for poxed or broken children. I raise my fin
to him, celebrate the poison we’re all

swimming in, remembering the way
you say cheers in Hungarian:

Isten Isten, meaning, in translation,
“I’m a god. You’re a god.”

 

 

More by Erin Belieu

Against Writing about Children

When I think of the many people
who privately despise children,
I can't say I'm completely shocked,

having been one. I was not
exceptional, uncomfortable as that is
to admit, and most children are not

exceptional. The particulars of 
cruelty, sizes Large and X-Large, 
memory gnawing it like

a fat dog, are ordinary: Mean Miss
Smigelsky from the sixth grade;
the orthodontist who 

slapped you for crying out. Children
frighten us, other people's and 
our own. They reflect

the virused figures in which failure
began. We feel accosted by their
vulnerable natures. Each child turns

into a problematic ocean, a mirrored
body growing denser and more
difficult to navigate until

sunlight merely bounces
off the surface. They become impossible
to sound. Like us, but even weaker.

Field

Field is pause   field is plot   field is red chigger bump where

the larvae feed   corn wig curled in your ear. Field cares not

a fig for your resistance   though kindly   gently   lay your

head down   girl   lay it down.
   When ready   storm   when

summer   kilned smoothly as a cake. Awake! Awake and

wide is field. And viral. Biotic. Field of patience   of percolation

and policy. Your human energy. Come again? What for? In

field   there is no time at all   no use   a relief   the effort done

which is   thank you   finally   the very lack of you.   Lay your

head down   girl   lay it down.
   In field   which has waited since

you first ascended to the raw end of your squared off world and

gazed upon your subjects:   congery of rat snake   corn snake

of all the low ribbons bandaging the stalks. Progress in field

foot sliding in matter   slick chaff in fall.   And always   field’s oboe

this sawing   a wind   that is drawing its nocturne through the 23rd

mansion of the moon. Field   is Requiel’s music and the Wild Hunt

of offer. In field   they are waiting   you are sounding. Go home.
 

Another Poem for Mothers

Mother, I'm trying
to write
a poem to you—


which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I've wanted
to say, Mother.
..but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them. Poems to
mothers make us feel

little again. How to describe
that world that mothers spin
and consume and trap

and love us in, that spreads
for years and men and miles?
Those particular hands that could

smooth anything: butter on bread,
cool sheets or weather. It's
the wonder of them, good or bad,

those mother-hands that pet
and shape and slap,
that sew you together
the pieces of a better house
or life in which you'll try
to live. Mother,

I've done no better
than the others, but for now,
here is your clever failure.

Related Poems

Disease’s Gifts

For Peggy Munson

That you must accept
what you cannot prevent.  That fear inverts
the meaning of success.  That you can be fearless

when fear is all you have.
That fear is all you have.
That you aren’t alone in loneliness,

there’s a whole world here,
a pregnant, fascinating glimpse,
all stomach and hips,

of the life-creating love
you’re finally sick enough to feel.
That that glimpse can't stop you from melting

into the futures you fear
you will and will not have.
That you have, you still have,

everything you need to live:
night, ice, plums, a lap and a laptop, a name, a parent,
whipped cream, gossip, steaming plates

of life and death. 
That this is the end of the world.
That you will survive it.