Thursday, March 12, 2009

Until the other shoe falls

I did something this morning I haven't done for years. I turned the doorknob ever so quietly and crept into my almost-thirteen-year-old son's bedroom ever so softly to look at him in his bed--because he'd slept so long I wanted to make sure he was still breathing. He was, and his fever had gone down from the astonishingly strained white-faced look I'd seen last night and in my dreams. Today it seems an ordinary bout with the flu, and I thought of this poem because I'm so glad I no longer feel this way every time he gets sick:

When My Son Is Sick, by Sharon Olds

When my son is so sick that he falls asleep
in the middle of the day, his small oval
hard head hurting so much he
prefers to let go of consciousness like
someone dangling from a burning rope just
letting go of his life, I sit and
hardly breathe. I think about the
half-liquid skin of his lips,
swollen and nicked with red slits like the
fissures in a volcano crust, down
which you see the fire. Though I am
down the hall from him I see the
quick bellies of his eyeballs jerk
behind the greenish lids, his temples
red and sour with pain, his skin going
pale gold as cold butter and then
turning a little like rancid butter till the
freckles seem to spread, black little
islands of mold, he sleeps the awful
sleep of the sick, his hard-working heart
banging like pipes inside his body, like a
shoe struck on iron bars when
someone wants to be let out, I
sit, I sit very still, I am out at the
rim of the world, the edge they saw
when they knew it was flat--the torn edge,
thick and soil-black, the vessels and
veins and tendons hanging free,
dangling down,
when my boy is sick I sit on the lip of
nothing and hang my legs over
and sometimes let a shoe fall
to give it something.

The image of a shoe falling is less scary to me now than in years past, largely because it's turned into a vaguely comic image... When one of us gets sick---and my son is the first to succumb, probably because he can't wash the hand emerging from his splint very well--I spend my day as a nurse waiting for the other shoe to fall. Who will catch it next?


Karen said...

I love Sharon Olds' work. I hadn't seen this poem before. Having just had our first bout with croup, though, I now know how she felt.

Anonymous said...

I've totally been there. As have we all. Sending healthy thoughts your way.

Jeanne said...

The other shoes fell...and it's Eleanor, prostrate with fever this morning.