“Self-Portrait as Escape Artist” by Jeannine Hall Gailey

I could say at 42 I’ve escaped death already many times.
Maybe I was due, like a library book,
at an earlier age, but some spirit renewed me.

I almost drowned at three, then twice got scarlet fever
at 6 and 10. I could have died of my rare bleeding disorder
at 12; thanks to modern prescriptions, life prevailed.

I’ve become an expert at dodging tornadoes
and downed planes, traffic accidents and plain old bad luck.
I’ve been in a lot of hospitals, where doctors made mistakes—

but still, woke up every time, little worse for wear.
I’ve been scared of death, but now he seems so familiar,
an old sweater I’ve casually tossed aside so often.

Please remember when I die that I was lucky
to be here at all—my mother’s pregnancy uneasy,
birth difficult and under an ill star, infancy involving

incubators for a little baby blue me. So when I finally
take the fall, I must remember to say thank you
for the breaks that kept me ahead of the game so long.

—from Rattle #58, Winter 2017

 

[download audio] (link via Rattle.com, or click above link to listen at Rattle.com)

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Jeannine Hall Gailey: “I wrote ‘Self-Portrait as Escape Artist’ last year after I was diagnosed with metastasized cancer in my liver. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve escaped death so many times, what’s one more?’ I am happy to say I have already outlived my original prognosis so will continue to practice poetry and escaping for a little while longer.” (web)

“People Who Died” by Ted Berrigan

Pat Dugan……..my grandfather……..throat cancer……..1947.

Ed Berrigan……..my dad……..heart attack……..1958.

Dickie Budlong……..my best friend Brucie’s big brother, when we were
                five to eight……..killed in Korea, 1953.

Red O’Sullivan……..hockey star & cross-country runner
            who sat at my lunch table
                in High School……car crash……1954.

Jimmy “Wah” Tiernan……..my friend, in High School,
          Football & Hockey All-State……car crash….1959.

Cisco Houston……..died of cancer……..1961.

Freddy Herko, dancer….jumped out of a Greenwich Village window
in 1963.

Anne Kepler….my girl….killed by smoke-poisoning while playing
          the flute at the Yonkers Children’s Hospital
          during a fire set by a 16 year old arsonist….1965.

Frank……Frank O’Hara……hit by a car on Fire Island, 1966.

Woody Guthrie……dead of Huntington’s Chorea in 1968.

Neal……Neal Cassady……died of exposure, sleeping all night
           in the rain by the RR tracks of Mexico….1969.

Franny Winston……just a girl….totalled her car on the Detroit-Ann Arbor
          Freeway, returning from the dentist….Sept. 1969.

Jack……Jack Kerouac……died of drink & angry sickness….in 1969.

My friends whose deaths have slowed my heart stay with me now.

Ted Berrigan, “People Who Died” from The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan. Copyright © 2007 by Ted Berrigan.

“Making a Fist” by Naomi Shihab Nye

We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
—Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist” from Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry. Copyright © 1988 by University of Utah Press.

“On Wanting to Tell [ ] about a Girl Eating Fish Eyes” by Mary Szybist

—how her loose curls float
above each silver fish as she leans in
to pluck its eyes—

You died just hours ago.
Not suddenly, no. You’d been dying so long
nothing looked like itself: from your window,
fishermen swirled sequins;
fishnets entangled the moon.

Now the dark rain
looks like dark rain. Only the wine
shimmers with candlelight. I refill the glasses
and we raise a toast to you
as so and so’s daughter—elfin, jittery as a sparrow—
slides into another lap
to eat another pair of slippery eyes
with her soft fingers, fingers rosier each time,
for being chewed a little.

If only I could go to you, revive you.
You must be a little alive still.
I’d like to put this girl in your lap.
She’s almost feverishly warm and she weighs
hardly anything. I want to show you how
she relishes each eye, to show you
her greed for them.

She is placing one on her tongue,
bright as a polished coin—

What do they taste like? I ask.
Twisting in my lap, she leans back
sleepily. They taste like eyes, she says.

“Fire” by Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Judy Brown, from The Sea Accepts All Rivers