Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mind Control

Have you ever had one of those nights when your mind kept going back to something you didn't want to think about, and then you went to sleep, finally, only to wake up about 3 am for further brooding over the things you didn't want to think about?

I made the mistake of reading through a volume of poetry by Sharon Olds last night before I went to bed, and the power of one of her poems started me off thinking about the extremely gory details of the worst night of my life, the night after Eleanor, then 10, fell during a girl scout trip to the local skating rink and broke both bones in both arms, and after I got her to the local ER, she had to be transported by ambulance to a Children's Hospital about an hour away, where they set her arm without the right kind of anesthesia because they couldn't tell how much and what kind of painkiller she'd gotten at the local ER. This poem just brings it all flooding back:

The Green Shirt

For a week after he breaks his elbow
we don't think about giving him a bath,
we think about bones twisted like white
saplings in a tornado, tendons
twined around each other like the snakes on the
healer's caduceus. We think about fractures and
pain, most of the time we think about pain,
and our boy with his pale set face goes
around the house in that green shirt
as if it were his skin, the alligator on it with
wide jaws like the ones pain has
clamped on his elbow, fine joint that
used to be thin and elegant as
something made with Tinkertoy then it
swelled to a hard black anvil,
softened to a bruised yellow fruit,
finally we could slip the sleeve over,
and by then our boy was smelling like something
taken from the back of the icebox and
put on the back of the stove. So we stripped him and
slipped him into the tub, he looked so
naked without the sling, just a boy
holding his arm with the other hand as you'd
help and old geezer across the street, and
then it hit us, the man and woman by the
side of the tub, the people who had made him,
then the week passed before our eyes
as the grease slid off him--
the smash, the screaming, the fear he had crushed his
growth-joint, the fear as he lost all the
feeling in two fingers, the blood
pooled in ugly uneven streaks
under the skin in his forearm and then he
lost the use of the whole hand,
and they said he would probably sometime be back to normal,
sometime, probably, this boy with the long fingers of a surgeon,
this duck sitting in the water with his L-shaped
purple wing in his other hand.
Our eyes fill, we cannot look at each other,
we watch him carefully and kindly soap the damaged arm,
he was given to us perfect, we had sworn no harm
would come to him.

Why this poem brought back that particular harm on this particular night, I don't know. It was spring when it happened, and maybe there was a smell, in addition to the poem, to trigger all the details of memory. We are all healed now. It's daytime. The sun is out. The azaleas and rhododendrons are blooming. I need to wake up.

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