A small boy, head wrapped
in a tiny turban, screams in
a pristine cubicle; his parents
try to reassure him in a language
I don’t understand. He wails
a perfect chromatic scale.
“Almost done,” I hear the tech say.
His mother echoes, “Almost done.”
There is a promise of stickers.
Jagged squalls, then the crying stops—
stunning silence. The waiting room
inhales collective relief.
But then the next movement begins
with a crescendo to high C that
oscillates in my stomach. I hear my
liver and spleen humming to each other,
feel the coloratura of cells trilling
in my bloodstream.
My number is called, the voice
tense behind the question mark.
I approach solemn eyes as the boy’s
song goes on. A hand takes my
ID card, checks my face against
the cheery smile.
Then, as if quieted by a conductor’s
baton, the music subsides, diminuendo,
to hiccups—the draining must be done.
“Chair #1,” the voice says.
I am the new first chair in this orchestra.
I settle. The warmth of the previous soloist
ebbs up my spine; the percussion of his
rabbit heart resonates into mine.
I absorb the lingering tones.
I take a breath, extend my arm
to the phlebotomist, smile,
tell her my name.
From my bed, I hear it—
soft plump of a furry body dropped,
tiny nails scrabbling to flee,
a pounce. I sigh, tap on the light,
feel my feet hit hardwood.
She sits, head bowed,
looking at her downed prey
curled into a C. I can see it
breathing hard, imagine
the staccato of its heart.
As I reach for a towel to scoop
up this possum-playing mouse,
hoping to return it to the night,
it springs, scurries behind
The cat looks up at me.
“Your fault,” I hear her think.
“You’re right,” I say.
We both study the wall of books.
She settles down for the night watch.
I know how this ends.
I go back to bed, lie there, knowing
one heart will stop beating in my house tonight,
knowing I cannot save this one little life,
as I could not save yours.
(for Ann Emerson)
you, who inhabited this room before me—
you left behind some of your words
nouning and verbing around
like friendly mosquitos.
Some land on me—
Look! A possessive!
I slap, imprint it,
make it mine.