Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Alternative Medicine” by John C. Mannone, Poet of the Week. One of Mr. Mannone’s poems will be featured every weekday during the week of January 18, 2015. Mr. Mannone’s biography may be found here: http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2015/01/poet-of-week-john-c-mannone.html.
John C. Mannone
Julie’s hazel blue eyes glisten in the stark
recesses of her hairless head, not even stubble
from her once flowing auburn locks remain
The half-light in her hospital room illumines
her gaunt face. A thin black-and-white checkered
gown rises and falls with her breathing
that labors in syncopation with the heart
monitor and pulse oximeter—her body starving
for oxygen. Her catheter snakes from under
the sheet to a bedpan full of pale yellow liquid.
And the IV silently drips some miracle chemical,
but now its magic virtually gone. She doesn’t worry
anymore about a staph infection where the needle
pierced her vein. Why would she?
The room is antiseptic. That’s what the nurses
tell her at every visit, after each surgery, after
all the radiation treatments failed.
No more procedures scheduled. Tomorrow
she goes home, her body ruined, but healing
is just as important as curing.
Her husband, Bill, makes her comfortable,
but she doesn’t want to hear him say the word
hospice, especially when she’s lucid like now.
She rests in her favorite chair—a French provincial—
by the Tiffany lamp; Bill sleeps in the bed
next to her.
The moon is pallid, its light bleeding through
the slats of the window blinds. The Man-in-the-moon
doesn’t offer any smiles.
Julie squeezes a stuffed animal
she had since a child—a brown monkey—
close to her chest. Then shakes
it with unexpected violence; curses it
when it doesn’t tell her why.
She reaches for the scissors,
and the needle in the nightstand drawer,
but doesn’t fill it with insulin. Just air.
The midnight moon is almost blue, and her face
is a ghost. She stares through the seams of night;
doesn’t see any stars. Julie clenches the needle.
Bill stirs in the morning light; feels the cold
empty space next to him. Julie’s chair
is now turned toward the window. He cries
out to her, but she doesn’t answer.
His heart races louder than sunlight
as he jumps out of bed and scrambles to her.
on the floor,
and the needle, stuck through the heart
of the stuffed animal. Her fingers, ever so
gently, caressing the sheared head
of the brown monkey as if death itself,
as if by just imagining the softness of its skin,
its panting rush into her lap,
that she might tame it.
Poet’s Notes: Only one of seven words survived the final revision for what originally was a piece for a flash fiction writing exercise (the last one in the list: dammed, badge, clean, slated, medical, element, ruined). Though arguably good as a prose poem, it was eventually converted to a lineated poem with tighter composition. It also took advantage to show some good line breaks.
Though the original prompt words possibly suggested a medical theme, it was the brilliant work of Rafael Campo, M.D. posted by the American Academy of Poets for their Poem-a-Day that same day (January 3, 2014)—“Hospital Writing Workshop” http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/hospital-writing-workshop. The quotations in “Alternative Medicine” were adapted from it.
I was visibly moved by his work and impressed by his lines that I adapted for “Alternative Medicine.” I took the title to echo his collection by that name, but I use it in a different context in this poem. The main character in my narrative echoes something that Dr. Campo said about his collection that I read about in his “about the poem” section that day: “If my patients have taught me anything, it is that healing is just as important as curing—sometimes, even more so … .”
Medical themes inhabit some of my work because I once aspired to be a physician (a pediatrician in particular). I never got over my squeamishness, so I had to abandon that notion, but my compassion remained. I learned that I could immerse myself in chemistry and physics, which is what I am gifted in, and still love children without becoming a doctor.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Campo was a pre-med with me at Amherst College. We graduated together in 1987. He is certainly living my dream of being a successful physician and poet. Mr. Mannone has done well here to allow Dr. Campo’s work to inspire his own. A review of “Hospital Writing Workshop” in Songs of Eretz may be found here: http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2014/01/review-of-hospital-writing-workshop-by.html.