I think of all the ways
the women in my family have died,
the slow disease of genetics and childbirth
here in the curve of my cheekbone.
The doctor speaks as if this bloodwork
were routine, and I smile to make it false,
make this procedure only a safe precaution.
I’m told to focus on the opposite wall,
on the poster of a record-breaking runner
whose breath I imagine leaving
in heavy strides toward a finish line.
But what I want is to forget
that a body is capable of losing.
The first time I saw the dying,
I only understood the body in steps—
the lungs of my great-aunt,
pneumonia next, a tumor ballooning
until her memory saw someone else
in my adolescent frame standing
beside her hospital bed. Someone older,
perhaps already gone but pulled to the present
by the sharp lights meeting the glass
of the window. This is how I imagine each
woman left—a small room and red Jell-O
spilling from a plastic cup on the bedside table,
aluminum foil lid peeled back and catching
light through the window.
What of them is in my body,
in the soft sponge of bone marrow
the doctor extracts by needle,
the marrow like a burning ribbon peeled
from the pelvic bone, a muscled
wake of dying cells? I want my dead
relatives to step from the dark
behind my sealed eyelids and retrieve me,
tell me how time is pulled from us.
When it’s over I stand in the bright room.
With each step down the winding halls
a sharp pain echoes through my hip,
through the empty afternoon
as I exit, thin ghosts in my bone.
Kathryn Haemmerle holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and has received an MFA Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Radar Poetry, Hobart, Iron Horse Literary Review, Blackbird, Tupelo Quarterly, Lake Effect, Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, and elsewhere.