Sometimes All You Can Do Is Wait

By ZEINA HASHEM BECK

The dermatologist injects the local anesthetic 
into my upper arm. When she begins to carve,

I tell her it is not enough, so she reinserts the needle for more
numbness, though she doesn’t seem convinced

I’m still feeling some pain. The hope is the biopsy will help her
determine the disease, though that’s not what I’d call

something so external. She promises she won’t stitch,
just allow the wound to heal from the inside out.

If this is an allergic reaction, she explains,
the antihistamine should have worked,

& when I fear something parasitical from the boxes
the movers used this month, she says the rest of the family

would also be itching. Is anyone else itching? she repeats.  
She looks unsure, but not worried. 

I read about the causes of itchiness, all improbable for me: 
eczema, psoriasis, scabies, lice, chickenpox, hives.

I take photos of the skin on my thigh, the side of my breast,
my arm, my calf, my belly, & send them to friends. See? 

They reassure & recommend doctors. My mother suggests
baking soda mixed with oil or water, rosewater perhaps, perhaps

taking a cool bath. My mother-in-law says sometimes
it just goes away if you try not to itch at all.

In my research I find out itchy skin is called pruritus
from Latin, seemingly related to prurient:

“having a restless desire or longing,” or
“causing lasciviousness or lust” or “having

lustful thoughts.” All neither curable 
nor contagious. Is anyone else itching?

& this time I confess my husband worries too
about where we will retire, us run-aways from 

home-towns & home-gods. & my children, 
who call their grandparents’ country vacation,

ask why we don’t own the new house, nod
when we remind them to turn off the lights to reduce

the electricity bill, or that class friends might leave
to go back somewhere. The doctor admits she finds it difficult

to save up too, & might return to Brazil soon. Where 
do you return? she asks. & I say too often & not enough,

& we agree to wait for the lab results on Monday. 
All summer my daughter ran to my father,

who applied calamine or sprayed Spirto on her mosquito bites.
The more you scratch them, the bigger they grow, he told her,

& I remembered how he used to whisper to me, Your salty blood.
That’s how the mosquitoes find you, even on the sixth floor. 

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her third full-length collection, O, will be published by Penguin Books in summer 2022. She’s also the author of Louder than Hearts, winner of the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize, 3arabi Song, There Was and How Much There Was, and To Live in Autumn. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, The New York Times, The Adroit Journal, American Poets, Poetry London, World Literature Today, and elsewhere.

[Purchase Issue 22 here.] 

Sometimes All You Can Do Is Wait

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