Winner of the 2001 Levis Poetry Prize
selected by Susan Mitchell
I remember standing in the kitchen, stirring bones for soup,
and in that moment, I became another person.
It was an early spring evening, the air California mild.
Outside, the eucalyptus was bowing compulsively
over the neighbor’s motor home parked in the driveway.
The street was quiet for once, and all the windows were open.
Then my right arm tingled, a flutter started under the skin.
Fire charged down the nerve of my leg; my scalp exploded
in pricks of light. I shuddered and felt like laughing;
it was exhilarating as an earthquake. A city on fire
after an earthquake. Then I trembled and my legs shook,
and every muscle gripped so I fell and lay on my side,
a bolt driven down my skull into my spine. My legs were
swimming against the linoleum, and I looked up at the underside
of the stove, the dirty places where the sponge didn’t reach.
Everything collapsed there in one place, one flash of time.
There in my body. In the kitchen at six in the evening, April.
A wooden spoon clutched in my hand, the smell of chicken broth.
And in that moment I knew everything that would come after:
the vision was complete as it seized me. Without diagnosis,
without history, I knew that my life was changed.
I seemed to have become entirely myself in that instant.
Not the tests, examinations in specialists’ offices, not
the laboratory procedures: MRI, lumbar puncture, electrodes
pasted to my scalp, the needle scraped along the sole of my foot,
following one finger with the eyes, EEG, CAT scan, myelogram.
Not the falling down or the blindness and tremors, the stumble
and hiss in the blood, not the lying in bed in the afternoons.
Not phenobarbitol, amitriptylene, prednisone, amantadine, ACTH,
cortisone, cytoxan, copolymer, baclofen, tegretol, but this:
Six o’clock in the evening in April, stirring bones for soup.
An event whose knowledge arrived whole, its meaning taking years
to open, to seem a destiny. It lasted thirty seconds, no more.
Then my muscles unlocked, the surge and shaking left my body
and I lay still beneath the white high ceiling. Then I got up
and stood there, quiet, alone, just beginning to be afraid.