Wednesday, October 4, 2017

"After Sickness" by David Pring-Mill

After Sickness
David Pring-Mill

I had to expand my strength
To match their incremental mystery.
The diagnosis was unknown
and they couldn’t predict
When the pain might release me.

But it was not the pain
that shook me most.
It was the devastation later,
the loss of friends during.
That, they do not say.
They do not tell you
that friends walk away
from a sick person.

And so I found out
which friendships were functional.
By not going out to the bar
on a Friday night,
I was not fulfilling
that function of friendship.
And so I watched
another person
peel away.

The ones who encouraged me
to call and check in
did not return calls.
My safest connection was IV
and the fluids were gone.
The nurse, nowhere in sight.
The staff, overwhelmed
by that man with the bullet wound,
the woman screaming gibberish,
the mouths that still breathed, diligently
for the sake of delirious minds,
with nerves conceptualizing
the excruciation of shattered parts.

And I tried to remember
what ocean air tastes like
on my lips,
what kisses even are…

Self-pity is a weak approximation
of loving yourself.
And so I tried
to avoid that.
Vulnerability lets in cold drafts;
and so I shuttered that.
Pain is the body’s feedback,
and so my mind chose
a reality beyond suffering.

Evolutionary psychology would explain
why people distance themselves from the sick,
even though nothing about me was contagious.
Or is it simply the self-centeredness
of our sun-centered world?
Which justification gives me
more comfort and leaves them
with their values intact?

I did not know,
But I felt like
a salvage yard, with a car crusher
popping out the bones of derelict cars,
depriving each body of its air and its room,
allowing the casing to go
from the size of its parking space
to a flattened disc of colored metal.

In the isolation, after illness
and before recovery,
even the suave, confident voice
will turn into desperate howling,
the arched and dark eyebrows of a slick youth
will still be arched, but in ruined horror,
Hairs whitened with the washing dyes of dread.

And then I went outside again,
Searching for the images
that floated in my mind
when I could not freely move.
Each day I walked a little farther
and it wasn’t lost on me
how cyclical
this all is.

From bedrest, I leapt
into our limitless world.
Regaining friends was like jump-starting a car
from the salvage yard.

And when I was immersed again,
When I was in love again,
When I was with nature again,
It was observed that I tend to be
a serious man.
And I did not think
I was so serious, before.

I also perceived
time more often.
And, in fact, I became
obsessed with time.
And when the hours, minutes, even seconds
tried to escape me
or fell into chaotic vortices,
I would take drastic measures
to recover my schedule and days.
I am not okay with wasting time,
having understood perfectly:
Mortality is more
than theory,
And less than
this very moment.

Poet’s Notes:  “After Sickness” is a poem that speaks to the alienation caused by illness. It’s a poem rooted in personal experiences from my past. I am thankful to say that this is all in my past. However, there was still catharsis in typing out the words.

As a consequence of my work on health care reform and also through random conversation, I’ve met many people who endured substantial physical pain. And I discovered that it is common for pain to feel alienating. Beyond the pain of the body, there is the psychological pain of becoming detached from friends and working life. It is not uncommon for friends to distance themselves, perhaps unconsciously, from a person who is sick. Some friends will, of course, remain present and supportive; and it never seems to be the ones who you would expect. 

These types of experiences are revealing of other people’s integrity and also just their own capacity and comfort levels. It’s impossible for me to feel any kind of lasting resentment towards those who weren’t there, but as I was recovering, I definitely felt their absence and I felt it as an additional form of pain. This poem is my way of connecting with anyone who might still be in the thick of it. 

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